Is it okay to play favourites?

Kerri Sackville says it would be impossible for her heart to lock in a favourite child, though many parents have one

Practical Parenting / July 16 2018

“Jacob wanted to show the world he loved his son, to make it clear that Joseph was the special one. So Jacob bought his son a coat, a multi-coloured coat to wear…” So the song from Joseph and his Technicolour Dreamcoat goes.

The story of Joseph and his coat is probably the most famous story of parental favouritism in the world. Out of all his 13 sons, Jacob loved Joseph best, and he wasn’t afraid to show it.

I’ve always had a favourite child too, but which child is the favourite differs from moment to moment. Sometimes I feel a special bond with my youngest, who’s the baby of the family and still cherubic compared to her siblings. But sometimes it’s my son who’s my favourite. Things that are easy for his sisters can be difficult for him, and when he overcomes a challenge, he tears at my soul the way his siblings don’t. And then on other occasions it’s my elder daughter who’s my most beloved, by virtue of her affectionate and caring nature, her insights, and her empathy.

Still, I can honestly say I have no permanent favourite child. If I was forced to pick one of my offspring, my heart would explode under the strain. I can’t relate to the idea of preferring one child over another – I love all my kids to infinity and beyond, and you can’t love anyone more than that.

Tread carefully
That being said, plenty of people do admit to having a favourite child, and even more can identify the favourite sibling in a large family. And if it happens, then it’s not helpful to judge, but rather to look at how it can be managed.

So what’s it like in a family with a favoured child? Well, apparently it was pretty tough for Joseph’s 12 brothers. After all, they tried to kill him after their dad bought him that coat, and when that failed they sold him into slavery. And it must have been equally hard for Joseph to grow up with the pressure of being ‘special’, knowing his father had chosen him and that his brothers resented him for it.

Obviously Jacob couldn’t help loving Joseph more. Perhaps they simply clicked because of their similar personalities. Or maybe Joseph was just more likeable than his brothers, and Jacob, after all, was only human.

Still, Jacob shouldn’t have bought that coat. Quite frankly, if my parents had bought my sister an extraordinary coat, I probably would’ve tried to sell her into slavery, too. And I can guarantee my older kids wouldn’t hesitate to show my baby girl a similar fate.

Favouritism happens, and there’s not much we can do about it. If you do prefer one child over the others, be subtle about it. Enjoy the relationship, but don’t flaunt it to the world, and particularly don’t flaunt it to your other children.

No special treatment, no lavish attention, and no favours you wouldn’t give to the others. And definitely say no to multi-coloured coats.

Kerri Sackville is a columnist, social commentator and author. Her latest book, Out There - A Survival Guide for Dating in Midlife, is available now.