Do parents favour one child over the others? If so, is it a subconscious act or would any parents admit to having a favourite?
I have three daughters and a son and I can honestly say that they all delight and irritate me in equal measure. But I suspect that if you were to ask them who got the most lenient treatment and they were guaranteed anonymity, they would all say my son. Including him. And I fear that they might be right.
When I was growing up there was only my brother and me. My mum was almost evangelical about us being treated even-handedly. If one of us was bought something, then so was the other one. If one of us was afforded an opportunity to try something new then the other would be given a chance. There was no difference between us apart from the obvious one and probably as a result of our certain knowledge that everything was fair and seen to be fair, we were never competitive between ourselves.
But as we got older something did begin to become apparent. If there was a spare roast potato or an extra portion of crumble it would be offered to my brother. Never me, or my dad. And because he was a growing lad and never turned down an offer of food, there were never seconds for the rest of us.
And so it continued. The older we got the more apparent it became that he was the Golden Child, favoured way above me by my mum. But did I feel aggrieved? Was I badly done to and resentful? Not in the least because for every act of favouritism that my mum made to my brother, I was afforded at least similar if not better treatment from my dad. My dad bought me little treats for no particular reason. He sat for hours outside village halls in the wee small hours waiting for me to finish my disco or party. He drove like a lunatic around Lincolnshire's country lanes so that I could get from choir practise to roller skating at the Drill Hall before the end of the session.
So we both had a parent that favoured us in age old stereotypical style. Mum with her son and Dad and his little princess. And that was just how it was. But if you ask my mum to this day if she favoured my brother she would deny it. ( I haven't asked my dad but his favouritism was so blatant that I can't believe he would have the bare faced cheek to deny it!)
And so here I am with my own children. I do not have a favourite and love them all equally but I suspect I don't treat them equally. The little ones get away with things that I would have come down like a ton of bricks on the big ones for. This is partly because my ideas have altered with time and experience and also because I now pick my battles to prevent my life turning into one long conflict. So to that extent the little ones are having an easier time of it. I can't remember how the elder two behaved when they were 5 and 6 but I do recall getting as exasperated with them as I do with the little ones.
But my real concern is the treatment that my boy receives. Do I make allowances for him, as I like to believe, because he is only 5 and cannot be expected to behave like his sisters. Or is it because he is a boy? When I was pregnant many people assumed that we were having a fourth in an attempt to have a boy. This was not true. In fact, I wanted another girl. I knew about girls and had lots of girly stuff. I thought it would make having four children a bit easier. Of course, when he was born I was delighted to have a go at something new. But I really don't think I indulge him because of his sex.
Partly it's his size. He is so little in comparison with his sisters and in fact all other 5 year olds of my acquaintance. He is the only one of my children that I can still sweep up and plop on my hip with no physical effort and he seems to enjoy a cuddle as much as I do. So when we have finished eating and he weedles his way on to my knee despite my telling him to stay on his chair, I can't help but let him stay there.
He rarely does as he is asked first time. Is this because I let him get away with stuff or because he is naturally naughty or because he is 5? The girls would say that I let him get away with stuff. I do but am I spoiling him? I don't know. I can't tell.
But it's not just me. When he was younger, his sisters did everything for him and let him have whatever he wanted to stop him from crying. I had to talk to them about elementary parenting skills. Consistency. No meaning no. Firm but fair. And now I reap what I sowed. If I break my own rules they all chorus with righteous indignation that no means no.
But he is used to getting his own way. He has a cheeky smile, a wide vocabulary and is somehow very appealing. He has learned that by smiling, being endearing and adding thoughtful details in his conversation he can woo all my friends and so get away with almost anything. Even his war-weary class teacher seems charmed. I did once tell him that there would come a time when his smile would no longer work and he said that it worked now so that was ok. And is he right? Possibly.
But am I creating a monster? Should I be cracking the whip and expecting him to conduct himself differently? Will he grow up blithely ignoring me and getting away with murder because he knows I can't help myself and thus create resentment from his well behaved sisters? Time will tell. One thing I know is that I don't seem to be able to do anything differently. He is not the Golden Child. He is just young and appealing and will learn that he needs to do as he is told sometimes in order to get his own way. Or not.