No, I am not talking about betting the horses, although the results of this kind of playing favorites can result in some pretty serious losses. What I am referring to is the tendency of parents to favor one of their children over another. In my experience, when this topic comes up, virtually all parents will stoutly maintain that they treat all of their children the same. However, from conversations that I have had with family and friends over the years, it is apparent that some very intelligent people are either seriously clueless about their own behavior or on a really long cruise up that river in Egypt (de Nile).
I recently attended a class offered through the community education branch of a local junior college. The subject was how to deal with issues around the planning and administration of parental estates. I went in support of a good friend who is currently involved with assisting her surviving parent and dealing with adversarial relationships among her siblings.
In listening to the speaker and questions from the audience, it quickly became apparent to me that there were numerous serious family rifts that had been either caused by ongoing preferential treatment by parents during their lifetimes or by a perceived inequitable division of their estates. Unfortunately, there is no easy or sure way to make sure that this sort of thing does not happen in a family.
Perhaps parents need to take a step (or three or four) back and honestly assess their behavior towards their children. Do they “reward” the life circumstances of one child (a spouse and children) over the circumstances of another (single with a career)? Do they allow themselves to be manipulated (financially and/or emotionally) by any of their children? Do they become angry and defensive when their children try to discuss the dynamics of their family relationships?
Although self-reflection can be a daunting task, and changing long-term behavior patterns is difficult, making the effort could mean ending up in the “winner’s circle” rather than “finishing up the track” or “breaking down” in the family relationship race. So many times, I have heard people say “I love my relatives, but I don’t really like them”. Wouldn’t you like to be able to say “I love my family and I really do like them, too”?