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The favourite child syndrome

By Francis Ewherido

In my young mind in those days(over 40 years ago), I often wondered how parents  concluded that this child was their favourite. My confusion was  the fact that my parents did not show favouritism towards any of us, so I had no first-hand experience to fall back on. It was simply and always a case of who was right or wrong, who needed what, and whose needs were more urgent at any point. These were the criteria that determined where the pendulum swung.

As I grew older, I began to notice some of the criteria parents used to choose favourites. One was the eldest son. He occupied a special place; he was untouchable. He was exempted from household chores; all his needs were met sometimes to the detriment, anger and envy of the other siblings. His portion of food was more and he got the choicest and biggest pieces of meat .

The other criterion I noticed was the only son (and in rare cases only daughter). They were special children. Their sisters were tutored to live for and serve them. I visited a home  where the mother was proudly telling the older daughters to leave “my son alone… the only child  because the sisters will marry to join other families and change surnames while the only son carries on with family name).” In another case, a man who lost his only son was lamenting to sympathisers in the presence of the daughters that “I am finished; who will inherit my properties?”

Another criterion I noticed was intelligence. Some parents tend to favour the most brilliant children. I visited a female friend in those days for the first time. She was a stunning beauty and I imagined that she will be adored in her house. How wrong was I?She had a younger sister who was not as beautiful but apparently more brilliant, judging by the way the mother kept referring to her.

The mother had invited me to help in carrying out some assignments for the family. In the course of planning the mother said: “if only your sister was around”, repeatedly made degrading remarks about my friend’s intelligence every. The irony is that my friend is very intelligent, maybe not as gifted as her sister. But my surprise was how my friend put up with so much mental abuse and still emerged a very confident and successful young lady. Surprisingly, she adored her mother!

Some other parents have favourites based on looks, behaviour and other reasons even they cannot adequately explain. But my concern is should we have favourites among our children, especially in their developmental stages, and if we should, must we also flaunt it to the detriment of  others ? I am following my parents’ footstep. I do not have favourites.

All my children have different attributes which appeal to me differently.I am learning to understand each person’s personality and help them develop their potentials. I remember the day my eldest son came to tell that he learnt eldest sons are special. “There is nothing special about eldest sons”, I shot back angrily. “They are normal children like the rest of the children.”

I did not want him to harbour any such thoughts in his mind. In those days in Warri and its environs in Delta State, a lot of these eldest sons derailed. At a point, young people like me began to think eldest sons were cursed (“E be like say dem swear for them” was how it was said in Warri pidgin). I never really knew what was responsible for the trend, but I guess they were just spoilt brats.

But the bottom line is we must create an enabling environment in our homes where every child can blossom and develop to his or her full potentials. Sometimes, when parents favour a particular child and give him preferential treatment they prevent the child from developing normally like other children. This can become a stumbling block in the future.  Some sent their parents to early graves.

Sometimes favouritism leads to animosity and avoidable enmity among children .(Remember the story of Joseph and his siblings, even though we later found out that it was part out God’s plan to sort out Jacob’s family during famine). Today there are families that are torn apart where siblings are at one another’s throat. Meanwhile, the parents who created the mess are not there to clear it; they have passed on.

My current worry is for young couples who I see threading this path. They must realise that they might just be playing with a cobra unknowingly. There is a way to run the home and give every child love, attention, his/her due  sense of belonging. Love, peace and a strong bond reign in families where there is a level playing field, fairness and equity.  But even if parents want to have favourites, which is their prerogative, at least give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what belongs to God.


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