Squabbling Siblings And The Faults Of The Favorite

Squabbling siblings and the faults of the favorite

By Lisa Earle McLeod

“She stole my jeans and she never gave them back.” “Did not.” “Did too, they were under your bed.” “I didn’t steal them, I was just borrowing them. ” “It’s not fair, Mom and Dad let you get away with everything.” Two teens arguing over a pair of Levi’s? Guess again, it’s two adult sisters squabbling about the perceived injustices of their childhoods. Welcome to the Dr. Phil show. Think your parents treated your sibling better than they did you? Take your troubles on national TV and see if the big guy from Texas can sort it out. I confess, despite his aw shucks demeanor and the show’s recent trend toward sensationalism, I still like Dr. Phil. It’s not so much Phil himself, it’s the dysfunctional families that really reel me in. They hop up onto those big over-sized stools, and within minutes, the thin veneer of adult sophistication is gone. Dr. Phil peels back the emotional onion to reveal deep-seated feelings brewing since toddlerhood. One of the recurring themes is grown siblings who are still seething about which kid got the bigger share of the parental love pie. Of course, they don’t come on the show bickering about who got the last piece of Halloween candy. Their adult problems run the gamut from sick parents to financial matters, but it doesn’t take long for the real issue to emerge. Buried beneath all the grown-up arguments over who did or didn’t show up at the nursing home, and who should have kicked in more money for the family reunion, are sad lonely kids wondering why mommy and/or daddy loved the other child more. It’s a common problem and I doubt the Dr. Phil producers have to look very hard to find adults still harboring resentment towards their siblings. It’s strange. If the parents were awful, but treated everybody equal, the sibling bond will usually stay intact. In many cases, people raised with abusive parents cling to their siblings as one of their primary supports. But if children perceive that mom or dad treated one kid better than the other, they have a hard time getting over it. It’s not good or bad parenting that drives the wedge, it’s favoritism. And while it’s more common in homes where parental love is in short supply, I’ve seen it happen in families where the parents were doting. But here’s the deal, even if your parents did favor one child over the other, it’s not the favorite’s fault. While it might seem like the adored son, or pampered daughter is basking in the glow of parental adoration (and trying to rub your face in it), in many cases, the favorite doesn’t even realize that they’re the chosen one. Case in point, I know my husband’s mother loved her daughter, but it was her son who hung the moon. Even as an adult, I could be sitting at the kitchen table looking at my mother-in-law and I could tell from the look on her face which one of her children had walked into the room behind me. Yet my husband was well into his forties before he even realized that he was the favorite. And it wasn’t until he and his sister were both in their fifties that they finally understood that mom’s perceived unequal affection had more to do with her own issues and angst, than her very real love for her two children. Parents aren’t perfect, sometimes one child’s neediness, guilt over past problems or discomfort with their own sex prevents them from loving their children as unilaterally as they should. So if you’re still smarting over who got the last cookie, it might be time to get over it. After all, your brother or sister was just a kid when all this started and they can’t control their parents’ emotions any more than you can.

Lisa Earle McLeod is a nationally recognized speaker and the author of “Forget Perfect” and “Finding Grace When You Can’t Even Find Clean Underwear.” Contact her or join her interactive blog at .

EDITORS:You have permission to reprint this edition of Lisa Earle McLeod’s syndicated newspaper column Forget Perfect by Lisa Earle McLeod electronically or in print, free of charge, without further reprint permission as long as the bylines are included.

© Copyright 2008, by Lisa Earle McLeod. All rights reserved.

If you’re interested in running Lisa’s syndicated column on a regular basis contact Lisa Earle McLeod at 770-985-0760 or