Parents who have favourite children are, in my view, not doing the job right.
I've been sickened by all the talk recently of it being a "fact" that mums and dads always secretly have a favourite among their children, and that those who don't have the courage to admit it are in denial. I absolutely refute that. I think it's one of those false, meaningless hyped-up suppositions borne of a loony media vomiting so-called reality TV shows (which are anything but real) and confessional newspaper interviews in which writers lay bare their souls for the rest of us to pick at.
A recent headline ran: "The mother who says having these two children is the biggest regret of her life" which revolted me. Especially when the writer confessed "I resented the time my children consumed. Like parasites, they took from me and didn't give back".
She sounds like a selfish cow, but I am truly sorry she feels like that about her kids. She should get help. But crowing about such feelings in newsprint? What's even worse she went on to perpetuate the myth that many of us feel the same, we just don't have her courage to admit it. "I know there are millions who will consider me heinously cold-blooded and unnatural, but I believe there will also be those who secretly feel the same."
Another woman wrote that she dearly wished she'd stopped at two children because the third and fourth were making life unbearable and causing tension between her and her husband. "I absolutely adore all four of my children and don't regret having any of them per se, but in hindsight I wish I'd stopped at two". How on earth are her children meant to feel reading that? And yes, they are aware of her feelings because she did the interview right in front of them, and pictured with them. Is that being a good parent?
What's more insidious is this continual insistence from other so-called experts that more and more women feel this way in secret, suggesting that it's acceptable. It isn't.
In my view a parent who favours one of their children is not doing the job properly.
In fact, in the last couple of days there's been a report from Purdue University in Indiana which says that being mum or dad's favourite when you're young makes you more likely to be depressed as you get older - as you try to manage your siblings' jealousy and feel under pressure to shoulder the responsibility to care for ageing parents. Well, duh. Bad parenting has consequences...
In 2009 two British professors, David Lawson and Ruth Mace, published a study of 14,000 families in the Bristol area. They found that each successive sibling received "markedly" less care and attention from their parents than their predecessors. Older siblings were even fed better, as a result of which they were likely to be up to 3cm taller than their younger siblings. They also had higher IQs, probably because they had the benefit of their parents' undivided attention for the first part of their lives.
I would argue that it isn't about favouritism. It's about the warp and weft of family life. It's about time and stress. And that's why families need support, especially since we are all separated so much nowadays from our own parents, aunts uncles and cousins who in olden days would have all chipped in to help.
When you have kids, you have a responsibility to do your very best by ALL of them, and as equally as you can. Whilst one or some of your brood may be EASIER to love in their disposition and character, might be extremely hard work or "high maintenance", the love you feel and give should be 100 per cent for each. I do not understand any parent who says differently.
That's not to say it is easy being a parent. If you thought it was, then you're a bit stupid. I've had five babies, lost one to cot death, and ended up rearing my sons as a single mother, so I do know a bit about it. Now they're all big and grown up and when we have family gatherings, they often tease me because they know how cross I get about this "favouritism" thing. So they always each entreat me: "Mum, who's your favourite?"
I always look them straight in the eye and respond firmly: "YOU are my favourite." But they know I've just said the same thing to their brothers. My meaning is that I love each of them as much as it is humanly possible to love anyone or anything. They'll understand one day, if and when they are blessed with children.
Having offspring utterly changes your life, your priorities and your options. It's financially punishing and exhausting and more should be done to help and support young families in terms of tax cuts, benefits, child care and even emotional and practical aid. And what about education? Perhaps we should be doing more in schools and sixth forms to educate our young people in what it is really like to bring up children, pros and cons, career and financial planning as well as family planning.
But please let's stop this supposed trendy talk of favourites and regrets. That's reducing children to mere commodities and devaluing parenthood to some sort of career choice. It's not. It's one of those few precious aspects of life that is a vocation.
It should be treasured as such.