I’m the apple of my father’s eye. For as long as I could remember, we were pretty much inseparable. I always felt I could talk to him about anything, and that I did. From crushes to school projects to parties, I told him everything. He was my ear through my elementary and high school years; a best friend before I knew what it was. His palpable love for me benefited me in many ways I can see now in my adult life, but as a kid, all I heard from people around us was “Mr. Andrews, you’re spoiling that little girl.” It was true. I always felt special, and loved, and significant to him, even during the rare occasions I got in deep trouble and didn’t get my way.
Like most girls, I relished in my father’s attention and would get, ahem, jealous when other little girls would come warm up to him. Chill, homie, that’s MY dad. That place on his lap is reserved for me. Candy? Get it from someone else, boo boo. My little seven year-old mind was possessive even before I could understand what it meant.
One year later, my little sister was born. While my mother was pregnant, I’d overhear women in my church tell her, disapprovingly, “Watch out when your new daughter is born. Jessica [me] is not going to want to share her father.” I remember panicking. Will this girl come between my Dad and I?
When my sister finally came into my life as a newborn baby, I immediately got swept up in how adorable she was. Her big cheeks, cute button nose, sweet disposition! There was so much to love about her.
The love continued to grow as she got older. I didn’t understand at the time why I hadn’t felt threatened by her. But now, I see why. Unbeknownst to me, before I even could recognize the possibility of her being a threat, my Dad had started the process of differentiating the two of us. She wasn’t a carbon copy of me. She was her own person. She liked blue. I loved pink. I was obsessed with ballet and jazz. She wanted to be a cheerleader. I had a loud, vivacious, colorful personality. She was shy, reserved, charming and kind.
And he loved us differently. He praised us both for character traits that he admired, and challenged and encouraged us both when we fell short. I never felt we were fighting for our father’s love. It was abundant, all-encompassing and always available to us both.
I can’t imagine what it’s like to feel you have to compete with your siblings for the love of your parents. Or what it’s like to lose that theoretic battle when you’re not chosen as “the favorite.”
A parent’s love is so influential in determining how we interact with people later in life. When children aren’t chosen as the favorite, it could foster a spirit of competition and insecurity in them that materializes when they’re adults.
That’s why a 42-year-old father, who writes under the name “Dadcamp,” sparked a firestorm when he admitted he had a favorite son on the parenting website, Babble:
Yes, I have a favorite son and I’m not ashamed to admit it. I’m guessing you could look deep in the mirror and admit you have a favorite too. [...] My choosing Zacharie as my favorite is not about ‘playing favorites,’ or ‘preferential treatment’ when I’m parenting. I don’t let Zacharie get away with anything because he’s my first pick, I just .. y’know .. like him better.
Liking one child better than another may seem harmless, but we all know it’s not. The impact of growing up while feeling less than a sibling, can haunt people long after they’ve left their childhood home.
It’s true a parent may connect with one child more because they have similar personalities, or maybe that child is older and can “do stuff” as Dadcamp wrote. But I think it’s worth it to look beyond your preferences and try to love and like them equally. For their sake.