Toxic Favoritism

23 Oct

Letterbalm Favorite ChildDear LetterBalm: My brother and his wife have two great kids, but they clearly favor one child over the other. It’s painful to watch. My seven-year-old nephew is noticeably fawned over and treated like a little prince. My niece, who is four years older, is the family drudge and scapegoat. She’s never given the benefit of the doubt, and her accomplishments are never celebrated. In her presence, her parents repeatedly remark to others that she’s not so bright and talented as her brother, which is not true. (An actual statement: “Mindy is our little ordinary person, not the shining star that Paul is.”) My wife and I try to do things for my niece, like a special “cousins’ day” with our daughter, and she is happy then. But as you can imagine, she’s becoming a sullen, depressed child, and we’re concerned. We think the whole family needs therapy, if it isn’t too late. I must intervene. What do I say to my sibling and his wife?

–Alarmed for Her Future

At one time or another, most parents favor one child over another. It’s natural, as parent and child go through phases. Avid fisherman Dad might prefer the company of his tomboy daughter over his infant son still pooping in his diaper until the boy grows older. Mom enjoys speaking French to one twin who dreams about Paris, while her fraternal brother shoots hoops. The point is not to turn preference into a poisonous pattern that irreparably damages a child. Repeatedly slamming her tells your niece she’s worthless, that her mom and dad don’t love her as much as they love her brother. Wow. What a horrible burden for young shoulders to bear. Brace yourself for pushback, and sit down with your brother and his wife when the kids aren’t around. This is not the time to spare their feelings. If they won’t be the champions for their child, Ms. L.B. says you have to be:

Rhonda and Stu, I have something to say and it’s not going to be pretty. I’m speaking for Susan, who is as concerned as I am. We’ve watched you both singlehandedly take a bright, sweet girl like Mindy and turn her into a depressed, sullen child. You favor Paul so much – he’s the little prince of your family – that you ignore Mindy. And, when you pay attention to her, it’s to criticize, castigate and pile on the chores. She’s never good enough, never smart enough, never accomplished enough. She’s all alone in your family – no one is ever on her side. Neither one of you shows Mindy that you love her unconditionally. You badmouth her to others – we’ve have had to witness this many times – while you praise Paul to the skies. And, by the way, all this coddling isn’t fair to Paul, either. What’s going to happen when he learns that the world isn’t going to bow down to him? Do you have any idea how painful life is for your daughter? She has to look for simple praise and love and acceptance from others, not from the two people who should be the center of her world. Somebody has to speak for Mindy, and Susan and I are doing it. Get the family into therapy now, or all of you will reap a whirlwind of pain. You need to rebuild the colossal damage you’ve done, and I’m not particularly concerned if all this hurts your feelings. 

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