Did you all see the cover of Time Magazine the other week? It was about parents playing favorites with their children. Their point was all about how parents really do have a favorite, but when pressed to name who it is, all parents, across the board, categorically deny favoring one of their children over another. They’ll deny it to their graves. And according to Time’s study, they’re all lying. 

I don’t know how you get any real data in a study like that, with parents denying on a stack of Bibles that they don’t play favorites. It’s just that most siblings have their suspicions. 

One of the funny anecdotes shared at my mother-in-law’s funeral last month was that she advised that whomever her children married, she wanted them to marry the “favorite” in that family. A-ha! I thought. Finally, after 34 years of wondering, all my suspicions were confirmed! (That was sarcasm, by the way. I have some pretty fabulous siblings to know better.)

The Time article got me thinking of my own little family. Do I have my favorites? The truth? Yes, but that coveted favorite position changes every day, if not every hour, every moment! Whoever is being kind and thoughtful and oh-so doggone cute, that’s my favorite right then. When my impossible three year old nuzzles in close and sighs, “Mommy, let’s snuggle forever, okay?” he’s at the top of the list. Then when I glance over at my baby girl who catches my eye and smiles with those two bottom teeth of hers…Ding ding ding! Now she’s my favorite. Then when my older daughter hands me a drawing that must have taken her hours to create depicting me in a princessy gown dotted with hearts– I want to hug her tight and never let go. Favorite! Then when I turn around and tie my five year old’s shoe laces because he gets frustrated doing it and he says, “Thanks Mom,” with that little grin of his… I melt! Then when my big strapping ten year old boy hefts my heavy church bag with an “allow me,” and carries it all they way out to the car for me without even being asked, his stock skyrockets!

My parents used to say, “Out of all the five year olds in the world, you’re my favorite one!” That number would always change to correspond with my age and all of us kids received the same praise. My sister was their favorite eight year old, etc…Like right now I’m my parents’ favorite 34 year old. (Sorry all you other 34 year old’s out there, but I’m their fave. No contest.) But when I was five, I knew other five year olds weren’t even on my parent’s radar screen so what were they doing in the comparison? No kid wants their parents to qualify their position as The Favorite. They want to own that title, free of conditions.

So my question is this: Should I privately tell each of my children that they are my favorite? Technically, they’re my favorite people in the world, so is it lying? My son has a wonderful piano teacher who does this–she tells each of her darling, talented students they are her favorite and they all believe it! They are all teacher’s pets and they beam and glow with pride at those recitals. And guess what, she is their favorite too! 

But it seems like such a dicey game to play. I fear years from now someone will let it slip in an argument, that I told them they were my favorite and it will all come out and then no one will feel special at all. So how do I make them feel like the special individuals they are without stirring the sibling rivalry pot?

I know, I’ll take the focus off of them and just tell them to marry a “favorite.” They can each do that.

I know I did.

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