If you’ve got a favourite child, you’re kidding yourself
“Your daughter,” remarks a friend in the schoolyard, “reminds me of that girl in Four Weddings and a Funeral.”
Really? The Andie MacDowell character? Or the one they called Duckface?
The one who wakes up late, screams f—k four times, then runs to the wedding, ripping her bridesmaid’s dress on the way. “You know,” she continues, “the crazy one with the sticking-up hair.”
She’s right. That’s our daughter, an imp of a girl who burst from the womb like a cartoon character, hair on end, legs akimbo, grinning madly despite the indignity of being yanked into the world with a pair of barbecue tongs.
I remember looking down at her, this tiny person born of my body and hatched from my genes, and thinking, who are you?
Eight years later, as she skips across the playground with mismatched socks and paint splodged on every skinny limb, I still wonder. For this is my child least like me. The yin to my yang.
The one I can never predict, yet whom I love so fiercely that just the thought of her half-a-kilometre away in her classroom brings tears. The child who, I now know, will teach me as much as I’ll ever teach her.
Among the many naïve assumptions we make about parenting is the expectation that our kids will turn out – in some respects – just like us. It’s reproductive narcissism:
“You have your dad’s blue eyes, but at least you have my temperament.” But if you’ve ever mixed blue and red paint, you’d know you get something else entirely. A colour all of its own.
This need to pigeonhole our kids, to claim them as some extension of ourselves, gives rise to the hotly debated issue of favouritism. Few parents admit they have a favourite, yet most adults are convinced they know which of their siblings their parents preferred.
When one mum broke the taboo last year and posted online that she loved her young son more than her daughter, it provoked an outpouring of loathing. Some called her “brave”, others said her honesty was “refreshing”. But whether her daughter will grow up to believe it’s “refreshing”, I don’t know.
My problem with this sort of navel-gazing - and the claim by author Jeffrey Kluger that parents are lying when they say they don’t have a favourite child - is that it presumes love is quantifiable, that it comes in unit measurements and you dish it out in 250ml or 500ml lots according to who pleases you more. Or - if you believe Kluger - to the child most like you, with an extra dollop if they’re the opposite gender.
By his calculations, my daughter should be calling DOCS.
Aside from the fact this is another example of over-thinking parenting, it’s rubbish. For love is as fluid as it is firm, spilling forth when it’s needed to tend grazed elbows, uncertainty, nightmares and disappointment. It’s heaped upon whoever needs it most in that moment.
And when there are no moments, it permeates, because love is whole no matter how many times it’s divided.
Growing up, I believed our mother loved my youngest brother best - and by Kluger’s equation (mother + youngest child = the most compassion), I’d be right. But what I didn’t understand back then was that my brother was sick. Worryingly sick.
Now, having traversed my own parental challenges, I understand there are no favourites. Because loving a child - one, two, or a dozen - is like having your heart peeled.
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