If you have grown up in a household with multiple children, I am willing to bet that you do not believe that all of you were loved equally. People often say things like “I was always my mom’s favorite, while my sister was daddy’s girl”.
But now that you’re a parent yourself, you find yourself torn with guilt because you suspect you love one child a little bit more than the other.
The fiction that parental love should always be equal, and our own childhood experiences of being less favored by either mom or dad have created completely unrealistic expectations about how we should behave as parents ourselves. And so, we’re always failing the math test of love because the numbers are never adding up equal, and we’re beating ourselves up for being a ‘bad parent’.
This guilt about equality is totally unwarranted. Love is a soul connection between two individuals and no two loves are exactly alike. It is an instinctive emotion that can never be quantified, and therefore it is impossible to love two or more human beings equally. Even if we pretend that parental love should be equal, one kid is usually “more equal” than the others.
The unadulterated truth is this: you love all your kids, but you love them differently.
Because each one of them is a separate entity, and they answer your soul call in very different ways. Once you let go of the obsession with equality, and realize this simple law of human nature, you can embrace the differences for what they are, without punishing yourself for your `failure’.
However, there is a great difference between `love’ and `favoritism’. Love any one child more than the others, it does not matter, but do not play “favorites”! This is the area where parents often fail, causing rifts, jealousies and misunderstandings among siblings that can last a lifetime. Also, the less-favored child develops feelings of inferiority that can affect their confidence, performance and social interactions in many damaging ways.
Being mindful of this, and creating a level playing field mitigates many of the pitfalls of not loving all your children equally. And the work begins even before you know which kid you love more. The work begins from when the second baby is still in the womb.
Here are some pointers that will help you stay vigilant against playing favorites:
• Involve your first-born in all the joys of a second pregnancy. Let your toddler touch mommy’s belly and feel a little brother or sister preparing to join the family. Discuss names for the new baby with the toddler and choose clothes, toys etc. with the toddler’s `advice’. Let the first-born have a solid stake in the new baby’s life and wellbeing before he/she has even arrived.
• New babies receive a lot of gifts from friends and family. Often, the first-born feels ignored and left out because kids equate gifts with love. Request close family members to bring something for the toddler as well, or keep a secret stash of fun presents yourself, so you can match gift-for-gift.
• Let the toddler share baby duties with you, and give him/her all the respect of a legitimate caretaker. Feeling important and indispensible in the new baby’s life is the first step towards building a lifelong bond of love and companionship between the two.
• Let the older child do the comforting when the younger one is crying or upset. Again, this activity fosters strong, protecting feelings in the older child that will be reciprocated as the younger one learns to expect comfort and solace from his or her older sibling.
• As the children grow older, encourage activities in which they have to participate together as a team. For example, a board game or field contest of some sort between parents and the kids. Fighting alongside each other is a great unifier among soldiers in the battlefield. Siblings are no different.
• Allow the children to sleep together for as long as possible.
• Let them work out some of their differences on their own without expecting parental intervention. If the fight is over a toy, make it known that the toy will be taken away if they cannot come to mutually agreeable sharing policy. The idea that both will lose out in the bargain if they don’t communicate and compromise is a strong partnership-building skill.
• Make them practice holding hands and looking into each other’s eyes. This is a powerful way of connecting energies and dissolving negative feelings because millions of compassionate stimuli pass from human to human when they connect on a soul level this way.
• Never compare the children. Never ever. Make it understood instead that they are unique in their own ways and each have their own, special strengths.