So who’s your favourite child? And do you actually recognise the impact that may have on family unity?
It’s almost a universal language in any family: ‘Oh, he or she is Dad’s or Mum’s favourite. They always have been. They get away with so many things and are always being given more than me. It’s just not fair.’
Most parents would deny having a favourite and would consider that they treat each child the same and ‘equal up’ what each child is given over the years. Well, at least equal in their minds.
Often, I find this ‘favouritism’ is expressed through the traits that a parent may see in a child. ‘Oh, John is so much more capable than his younger brother. We’re not worried about John, he always looks after himself. But David, he’s not as fast as John. We don’t want to see him being taken advantage of. We need to provide for him somehow.’ Or it can be an unrecognised bias. ‘We’re in the construction game and it’s really a man’s business. We have three children but Michael, our only son, well he’s not as tough as he probably needs to be to make it in this business. We’re not too sure what to do about succession.’
I’ve sat in family meetings and seen one child speak to a need or desire and win overwhelming support and encouragement from the parents. And in the next breath observed another child do the same and be dismissed.
The parents do not even recognise what they were doing and will often defend their actions, if challenged, on the basis that one child needs more support or encouragement than the other. That’s unlikely to be true, it’s just the more capable child has learnt to keep quiet and not expect to be treated the same by their parents. And whether there is a truth or validity to this favouritism/bias or not, it can and does significantly impact the success of a transition process. And it often goes unspoken until it explodes.