It seemed that none of Meridian’s readers had any thoughts on the topic of favoring one child over another, but we got a few straggler letters that I wanted to share with you. After those, we’ll move on to the current topic — how parents are monitoring the books their children read. Without further ado:
In my family we were theoretically treated equally, but of course we were not. I remember when my sister got a bicycle and I was also old enough to learn to ride, but I could not get one until I was the age when she got one because they claimed there were no bikes small enough for me (I saw them in my size at the store) and because we had to be the same.
The main reason my parents did not get my sister a bike sooner was because they lived somewhere with nowhere for a kid to ride, but we had moved and now could learn. Two years later, on the dot, they wanted me to learn and being the ornery kid I was, I refused. I did not learn until I got a paper route at 12 and needed the skill.
What hurt most was the lie that bikes did not come in my size and that was why I could not get one. I have never had much tolerance for lying and I still don’t. For the record, until my brother was born I was my dad’s favorite and my sister was my mom’s and they took sides.
When I had my own kids I wanted to do better and was struggling with this issue. While they were still tiny I read an article in Mothering magazine that hit home. The author said that children are not the same, so we should treat them like who they are and not the same. Pretending to treat them equally — which is not possible — sets up an automatic lie, and they see through it.
The author gave the example of paying for college. One of his kids had totally messed around in school and was not ready for college, so he did not support the child at that point. Another (this was a large family) had studied hard, knew what he wanted to study, and was totally focused. The parents paid for a lot of that child’s education. This parent loved each child for who he was, but made no claim to equality of treatment.
I have followed this advice and make no attempt to treat my kids equally. As an example, the oldest has had the brunt of the parental errors and household responsibility. In our home the oldest — as long as he/she is doing the work — gets automatic front seat of the car privileges. Interestingly, whoever was oldest often shared and gave siblings turns in front.
The younger children have indeed done many things sooner than the oldest. The youngest has been the most neglected in many ways, but is getting more time now as the older ones move on. The older ones got more attention when they were younger.
Life is in no way fair or equal, and learning to accept that will help our kids to be happier.
For the record each of my children has felt like the favorite at times. My littlest believed he was the favorite for years because I would tuck him in to bed at night and tell him he was my favorite Jacob. I repeated this with each child, so each felt favored. Also, any time I take them on dates, the one I am with is the favorite at that time. Since they were little we have gone out on dates with them, even if it is grocery shopping with just one child.
Loved your letter, Liz! Your suggestion to treat kids individually and not equally really hit home for me. I have a close friend who travels often. Sometimes he will see something that has one of his children’s names on it, and he’ll buy that — but he won’t buy anything for the other kids just to be buying something. The children understand that the next time he travels, their dad may see something just for them, and they’ll be the recipient or recipients of his gift. In the long run, everyone gets about the same number of presents, and all the presents have been thoughtfully chosen with each child’s interests in mind. Sure beats a t-shirt from a city you haven’t visited.
I realize it’s late to weigh in on the last subject about favoritism, but in case you have room or need a filler, here it is. I think the reason you had so few respondents is because it is a problem, but many of us hope we’re dealing with it effectively. Or we’re trying to be forgiving towards parents who we feel wronged us.
My husband has the opposite problem in his family — he’s the only one of four children that’s active in the Church, went on a mission, married in the temple, and has a good job. He was always respectful, kind, and considerate of his parents. But his other three siblings get all the attention. They are coarse and vulgar, have a variety of morality issues, money issues, and respect issues, but they are treated as the favorites. We live half the country away, and our kids rarely get anything from their grandparents, but through the grapevine we hear how the other grandchildren go on trips, get lavish gifts, and are treated like royalty.
A couple years ago we visited his parents, and no one in the ward knew who my husband was! In fact, several people came up to us and said, “We thought your parents had only three sons, not four. Never heard of you before.” But they could recite the names and occupations of the other three sons, because of how often my in-laws talk about them, and not to complain, either, but to praise the three rebellious sons (who all live on the same block as my in-laws). My husband said it doesn’t bother him, but it sure bothers me!
As for favoritism, one of our seven is a very difficult child, has been since infancy. She’s always been quick to lose her temper, extremely critical of everyone around her, and just had a nasty disposition. It was very often difficult to like her.
So I made it a matter of prayer, asking the Lord to soften my heart towards her, to help me see her good traits. During her teenage years I felt myself changing towards her. I don’t think she changed much, but my attitude did as the Lord helped me see her in a different light. Now she’s in college and her stubbornness has really helped her do well in school! She has also softened considerably, and having moved away has made her appreciate her family. I really like her, now!
If we recognize a problem, and ask the Lord to change our hearts to deal more effectively with it, He will. That’s His work and His glory!
Now I’m praying to have a more generous heart to my in-laws, who have never had much generosity towards their son.
Thanks for writing, Still. Your letter didn’t seem like a filler to me! Your letter reminded me of my cousin, who went to her father’s funeral earlier this year and was told by her father’s best friend that he didn’t know she existed. Sometimes parents do appalling things to their children. Thanks for reminding us that we always have the option of praying to have our hearts changed. That’s an important concept.
Okay — now we’re on to the books your children are reading. Here’s what our readers had to say:
When I was a child I was a voracious reader. My mother encouraged me by reading a lot of the things that I read and pointing me in the direction of other things that she thought I would like. Some of them were good literature that might have been a little beyond my maturity level at the time, but she let me read it anyway. I remember once, however, when I was twelve that my older brother brought home what she thought was probably an R-rated book. She said, “Let me read it first.” (It was historical fiction, a genre we both enjoy.) She did and recommended that I not read it. I wanted to read it anyway and she allowed me to. I wished I hadn’t. Though I don’t think I was eternally damaged, it put thoughts into my head that didn’t need to be there. But, the next time a book came into our home that she recommended against, I heeded her advice and did not read it.
I have used this same approach with my own children. Read what they are reading, discover what they like, help them to find things that are appropriate that they will enjoy. I have recommended against books that I didn’t think were wholesome and then let them choose for themselves. By the time my oldest was in her mid-teens, she was reading things I’d rather she didn’t read. But this is a battle you can’t win. The more you ban a book, the more it gets read. My younger children have made better choices in their reading material. Ask me in about 30 more years how they turned out.
That was a great last line, Cindy! You really have no idea how they’re going to turn out until it’s all over. In fact, going back to the last topic, you can make every effort to raise all your children exactly the same way, and some of them will get the picture while others of them won’t. It all goes back to their individual personalities — something they brought with them to this life — and the concept of freedom of choice.
My 14-year-old son loves to read. He seems to have a lot of downtime during school. Since he has read every book in our house he was asking for a book to read. I went to the young adult section of the library and checked out a few that looked interesting.
The next day he handed the books back to me saying, “Hey Mom, next time could you look through the books first before you give them to me? These are definitely not appropriate.” I was horrified that I had put him in that situation. I was grateful that he has been taught correct principles and made the right choice not to read them. Young adult books need to be filtered too. A lesson learned.
Thanks for the tip, Horrified. It was almost worth the experience for you to be able to pass on the information that a lot of young adults shouldn’t be read by young adults. And it was definitely worth the experience for you to learn that your son has internalized his own code of honor. Well done!
As a parent, I feel that knowing what my children are reading is every bit as important as knowing what my children are seeing, or listening to. My oldest is in the eighth grade. Until this year I have read everything he has, usually before he’s read it. I continue to preview books for him and my two younger kids.
We have a responsibility to teach our kids how to recognize entertainment and information that will be of value versus those that will bring us down and fill our minds with garbage. By guiding my kids in their reading material I have been able to help them develop an appreciation not only for reading, but for books that they would have considered too hard, too old, or too dull, never giving them a chance. It’s been a great benefit to me, as well. I have read books aimed at the young adult market that I never would have picked up, were it not for my sons, and these have become some of my favorite books.
I have continued to read books suited to my own interest, and when I come across language, actions, or situations that I object to, my children see me return them to the library unfinished. They have seen me toss in the trash a book that I had purchased. It was a waste of money, but I wasn’t going to pass it on to someone else. It belonged in the trash. I make a point of telling them why I am not going to finish the book, and sharing with them why I am angry with the author for ruining what could have been a great story.
All of this effort has paid off. My oldest is now reading a wide variety of great books. He willingly picks up classics and enjoys them as much as the contemporary literature. He is selective in his books and careful to choose them wisely. His English class required that he read a currently popular novel this year. He read it and told me how much it bothered him — that the content left him feeling awful. I can’t possibly keep up reading every book he reads at this point, though I am close, but the years that I spent doing that have left him with his own good judgment, prepared to se well for himself what he will and will not read.
If the content of a book is gratuitous and simply feeding into what is currently popular in bookstores, it is not worth my family’s attention. I have read books that feature difficult circumstances, some of the ugly side of human nature, or the supernatural that is passed them on to my kids to read (age appropriately, of course) when it is content that will help them to learn a life lesson, deepen compassion, or identify with a hero on the side of good and light. We often discuss these books and relate them to the world they are currently growing up in.
I am grateful to have the chance to hold the world back, allowing it in only bit by bit, and according to the standards of the gospel and our family, helping our kids to build their defenses against it.
Some books are completely appropriate, but not necessarily appropriate for every age. It’s our job to hold some books back until a child is ready to handle its content and interpret it realistically.
I won’t mention any titles, but there are books that, if read too early, can encourage an unrealistic view of love and relationships to develop. These are books that are perfectly fine and inoffensive, but carry a great impact and influence the expectations of a preteen, or even a teenager. Just because the book is not offensive doesn’t mean the characters are not flawed.
Reading is a valuable way to spend one’s time. It’s one of my life’s greatest joys, but not all books are worth reading, and it is a parent’s responsibility to teach children not only to love to read, but how to choose the right books to read and at what age it’s appropriate to read them. It starts when they are quite young, reading to them every day. Young children can follow a book that is
far too difficult for them if it is read to them.
By doing this, you are showing them what a wonderful thing it is to read, and you are already guiding them in their selections. If we can develop a love of reading good literature in our children, what they watch or listen to might even become a less frequent concern.
Thanks for writing, Midwest. I recently read a mystery — highly recommended — that had one of the best plots I’ve ever seen in a mystery novel. I would have recommended it to all my mystery-loving friends, except that the author — a woman — used every opportunity she could to use vile language and to exploit situations for seamy sensationalism. (When I write this I surprise even myself, because I have thick skin about these things!)
Anyway, your letter has reminded me once again that I should write to the author and tell her why I’m not going to be reading any more of her books. Violence in literature is one thing. I can even understand some bad language in literature. But when it’s done gratuitously, it can make the book just not even worth reading.
When my kids were little we stopped going to the public library because there were so many books I found offensive, and I was very selective when they were young. For a few years we used the library at a local Seventh-day Adventist school, plus we owned tons of books. My kids also grew up without television in the home, so they were very sheltered when they were young.
As they got into their teen years, they had free rein at the public library, which means they ran into all kinds of things. Any child who goes to public school except in extremely conservative communities would be exposed to nearly everything at school through the library and curriculum. At this point I would say they are less sheltered than most kids.
Overall I believe we push kids to be too old too soon, then hold them back later.
By the time they are in their teens, my kids are able to start making their own choices just as they do when they leave home. Each of us is affected differently by what we read, and we must judge for ourselves.
Thanks for writing again, Liz. Loved what you said about how we push kids to be too old too soon and then hold them back later. Some of the things you write blow me away.
As the mother of nine children I realized a long time ago that I would not be able to preview and approve of every piece of literature (or film) that my children experience. So I talk a lot about our standards, what we expect and about how they make choices. I also try to give lots of suggestions of movies/books that I particularly enjoyed and why. (It has been fun to have them give me recommendations in return — some of my favorite books have come as suggestions from my children!)
If I see them reading something that I know is good, I tell them. If I see them reading something I disapprove of, I also tell them. One of my sons went through a phase in which he wanted to read a series of books that while not awful, were on the verge. My husband and I sat him down and talked about it and said that it was his choice but that we felt like this was not good for him to read. I was very happy when he chose to stop reading them.
Ana from Montana
It’s always terrific to see kids make their own wise choices, Ana. Just last month one of the ladies in our book group told us how her teenage daughter had refused to see two R-rated movies that were shown in her history class. The parents didn’t know anything about it until the teacher called the parents, assuming the parents had forbidden her to see the movies, and trying to convince them otherwise. He was probably puzzled when the parents told him the decision had been made by the teenage girl, but the mother was proud of her daughter for her courage in choosing what she believed to be right.
Here’s our last letter for the week. It comes from a high school teacher, who is more tuned in to what our children are reading than are most parents:
As a high school teacher, I assure you that students (and adults) read some “eyebrow-raising” books. Many times, however, it is not their fault. Good young adult fiction can be difficult to find. I think the principle, however, is the same with books as it is with movies, music, or television shows — “What kind of information are we putting into our spiritual brains?” and “How are we using our precious time here on earth?”
If we want our children to read wholesome, entertaining materials, we have to make them available to our children or make suggestions of good books to read. Share with your children a really good book you just read. I have a lot of good books in my home. Many times, my children choose their reading material from my library rather than from the school or neighborhood library. That means I must model the type of books they should be reading. We can’t expect our children to do something we are not.
Take an interest in what your children choose to read. What kind of books do they like? I like to give books as gifts to my children and grandchildren who are readers. Pay particular attention to what they are required to read in school. My mother used to take note of what we were reading and many times she read the same book. I did the same.
Communication is key. This provides a great opportunity to discuss “inappropriate” things sometimes found in required books. If I find it totally objectionable, I speak with other mothers and the teacher. (There are many other approved books.) And yes, I have sometimes asked my children not to read a particular book — and told them why. Then, I made a better suggestion!
Avid Reader in Idaho
Loved the question, Avid, about what we’re putting in our spiritual brains. That’s something we should all be asking ourselves on a semi-regular basis.
Okay, readers, that’s it for this week. We’ll see you next Monday, same time, same place.
Meanwhile, if you’d like to have your voice heard — either by giving an opinion or by suggesting a new topic for us — send your email to [email protected]. Be sure to put something in the subject line to indicate your letter isn’t spam. We’re looking forward to hearing from you!
Until next week — Kathy
“What is wonderful about great literature is that it transforms the man
who reads it towards the condition of the man who wrote.”