I was the last sibling in my family, born almost 10 years after my sisters. To this day, I’m sometimes still referred to as “the child” because my older sisters used to help change my diapers.
Some people assumed I was the favourite child because I was the “baby” of the family.
I asked my mother when I turned six years old, “Am I your favourite?” and she set me straight from that day onwards.
Mother said sternly, “Every child of mine is special. There are no favourites. When we are gone, Mum and Dad need all of you to stick together and look out for each other. Don’t ever forget that.”
Whatever we learn from such a young, impressionable age gets carried forward as a modus operandi, embedded into our blueprint for survival. It was unspoken between my sisters and I that we had to be there for each other, no matter how much we squabbled.
When I was 14 years old, my middle sister used to drive me to my National Track and Field races and she was the one cheering harder than anyone in the stands when I won my first gold medal.
At the time, I was too young to realise how fortunate I was to have such a supportive big sister.
Even my eldest sister was no different. She would wake up at 5am, if need be, just to pick me from the airport (even if you told her not to trouble herself).
Despite the fact all three of us lead different lives and are based in different countries now, I still feel supported across the miles.
The fact they bother to read my articles online is a sign they care about what is going on in my life, and I don’t take it for granted.
I realise that the way we are perceived and treated by our own family members ends up permeating every aspect of our lives.
If you were unloved, bullied or discriminated against in your household, you could grow up thinking the world is a difficult place to find acceptance or be appreciated.
I had a friend who could never make her parents proud, no matter how hard she tried.
It was really painful to see her put so much effort into gaining their approval but they never seemed to notice or acknowledge her accomplishments. They were usually too busy fussing over her younger brother (their only son).
Years ago, when she found out her mother loved the piano, she decided to take piano lessons to impress her but this backfired when her brother started learning the piano as well. Within months, he overtook his sister and skipped a grade.
Her mother said, “Just look at your brother. He’s so much faster than you. I’ve decided to cancel your lessons because you’re wasting our money.”
Needless to say, she developed an inferiority complex over time. She became a model (which is how I met her) but her parents wanted her to become a doctor or lawyer.
The pressure of never matching up to their expectations started to take a toll on her. She never felt “good enough.”
She was always compared to her brother and she felt very ‘unattractive’, despite the fact she was posing for top fashion magazines around the region.
All these insecurities started at home. They always do. Favouritism of siblings from an early age can cause long-term repercussions on an individual’s self-esteem and sense of belonging in their working life or relationships with other people.
I know it’s easier said than done. We’re all human and everyone seems to have a favourite football team they passionately follow, or favourite food, or boss’s favourite employee who everyone loves to hate at the office but when parents dote on their ‘favourite’ child, it can have a lasting impact on everyone around them.
Favoured siblings may grow up feeling a sense of entitlement and those least favoured may suffer from feelings of inadequacy or self-worth issues.
Psychologist and author of the Connected Father, Dr Carl Pickhardt, said that children are very keenly aware of the slightest variations in their parents’ treatment of them or their siblings.
The moment these discrepancies are felt, that’s when parents hear the all too familiar, “It’s so unfair!” cry from their children.
“Every parent may have a favourite, or a preference. It is absolutely normal,” says psychologist Ellen Weber, author of The Favourite Child.
She also says that parents may even change their ‘favourites’ at times. However, if parents cannot seem to love their children equally, at least, strive to treat them fairly.
Family therapist and dynamic speaker, Stephanie Martson said, “Self-esteem is the real magic wand that can form a child’s future. A child’s self-esteem affects every area of her existence, from friends she chooses, to how well she does academically in school, to what kind of job she gets, to even the person she chooses to marry.”