“That’s what I feel deep inside of me”: having a favorite child, a taboo subject?

Pregnant, Nathalie dreamed of having a daughter. When Louise arrived, she was “thrilled”. The meeting with his son, Antoine, was more difficult. “He slept through the night at 3 years old, I was exhausted and had trouble attaching myself. “Growing up, however, it was he who became her darling, as she says: “It is what I feel deep inside me, but I have never materialized it by words or by gestures in society. . “And just to entrust it to us, Nathalie says to feel guilty. It’s not easy to admit it. And even less to express it publicly. When questioned, many parents defend themselves from any preference, change the subject or take offense. Sometimes also comes to the surface the painful memory of precisely not having been “the chosen one” during childhood.

A privileged bond difficult to put into words

“It’s always a hidden and unspeakable phenomenon, but which agitates everyone, in a real or fantasized way”, notes Claudine Paque. In 2013, this associate professor and teacher at Nantes University published, with the psychologist and sociologist Catherine Sellenet, The Favorite Child, chance or burden? (Belin), for which they carried out fifty-five interviews with parents and children. “If the tales of past centuries display the theme of preference within the siblings, the current youth albums rather exploit the idea of brotherly jealousy remarks Claudine Paque. Today, “one must control his parental feelings and raise his children without expressing a preference, because it is culturally impossible”.

Sonia1 has four children: three girls and a boy. “My favorites are my eldest, Agathe, 16, and my youngest, Manon, 9. Agathe is very sensitive, open-minded, we have the same way of seeing life and we are very close friends. “As for her youngest, she describes” a fusional relationship since birth “. But the young woman keeps it to herself. ” This is taboobecause many believe that the favorite child does everything he wants and that he is loved more than the others.

It’s wrong: the love is the same and the rules are the same at home. “However, she ensures that” it does not show “to” not create conflict “. Nathalie also makes sure to hide it, except at bedtime. “I take the time to give Antoine a big hug, whereas with Louise, it’s just a kiss to sleep”. There is this child whose hand we spontaneously grab while walking, whom we love to have next to us at the table, who makes us laugh and less exhausts our patience. Preference sometimes creeps into little touches and cute nicknames. It’s a privileged link, which softens and upsets, and which is sometimes difficult to put into words. “Some parents who admit a preference for a child cannot say why, because these are unconscious manifestations”, notes the psychoanalyst Anne-Marie Sudry, author with Catherine Siguret of Chouchou or unloved? (Denoel, 2019). If we dreamed of having a daughter, she can become the favorite. “When the couple is expecting a child, they create an imaginary representation of it. At birth, if the imagination meets reality, if only at the level of the expected sex, it will become an ideal child. “And to remember that, “depending on the history of each parent and the family romance, there is an infinite variety of factors that could explain the preference of a child”. When Nathalie thinks about it, she realizes that she shares common traits with her son, “her joie de vivre, her curiosity and her thoughtfulness”. “He also looks like me physically, while my daughter is the spitting image of her father,” admits the one who divorced six years ago. It was then that she became closer to her son.

A symbolic function

“The concept of preference is ambiguous, but the differences are inevitable, because each child will have a psychic function in the couple, none arriving at the same time in their history”, observes the philosopher and family therapist Nicole Prieur. There is “the one that symbolizes the great love at the start, or the one that comes after an infidelity and which is supposed to reunite the parents”. Many elements are therefore at play within us – sometimes without our knowledge – and can give life to these affinities: our experience with our own parents and our brothers and sisters in particular. “If we are pregnant when we lose our mother, to whom we were very close, the child we are carrying will have a symbolic function for us”, illustrates Nicole Prieur. Another example ? “An eldest daughter who counted for nothing compared to her younger brother, a boy, can unconsciously put her eldest daughter in a place where she will repair the recognition she did not have. When the child grows up, finding in him qualities that we appreciate in ourselves can also lead to greater affiliation: they reinforce us in who we are.

Claire is the mother of two boys aged 9 and 5, “at the antipodes of each other”. “I wouldn’t say I have a preference, but rather a special relationship with the small, an easier understanding, but maybe this is lying to me? she wonders. Everything is “more fluid and easier”: “I recognize myself in his temperament, his reactions, his reflections. “And pays all the more attention to his behavior with the eldest. “As I have the impression of being more on his back, I counterbalance by valuing him when he makes an effort. She also questions the current pressure to be perfect parents” and to have an egalitarian education. An illusion, according to Nicole Prieur: “We must forget this idea of ​​equality, replace it with the notion of equity and cultivate singularity. His advice?

“Recognizing children in their differences, giving them as much importance, respecting them and don’t compare them. The more we recognize the difference, the less we risk falling into the trap of preference. » Listen to each member of the siblings and help them express their needs. If one of them shows signs of discomfort, do not hesitate to consult so that everyone finds their place before the narcissistic wounds are too deep.

For further

What to do if you feel guilt?

Response from Nicole Prior, philosopher and family therapist. She is also the author of Necessary betrayals, allowing yourself to be yourself (Robert Laffont, 2021).

“You shouldn’t flagellate yourself because you feel guilty, but rather look for the meaning of this preference. Ask yourself: “What makes me have a preference for this child?”, “What is at stake between him and me?”, “What am I waiting for of him?”, “What am I trying to settle through him that, in fact, comes under me?” Trying to clarify things, alone or with a psychologist, allows you to free yourself, to free the bond with this child and to better build the fraternal bond: everyone wins. »

Being the darling, not necessarily a chance?

Lucie suffered from not being the favorite. “I haven’t leafed through photo albums for a long time, you only see my older sister! I had the impression of being invisible, she took up all the space. The young woman quickly flew out of the house. “I tell myself today that it’s a godsend not to have been the darling. My sister chose the same job as my mother to please her, but she doesn’t thrive there. Finally, I had the right to be myself, free, ”she relativizes.

Watch out for the reverse of the medal, alert Anne-Marie Sudry. “Designating a child as the best can make him want to succeed… But it can also destroy him. The parental gaze can become obsessive, the wait too heavy. The psychoanalyst remembers this man, adored by his mother, and who chained romantic setbacks: “He expected a woman to treat him as her mother had done, by covering him with love, by becoming his hero. A therapy allowed him to see that he was asking too much and that’s why he had trouble living a love story. Having privileged status can also penalize complicity among siblings. Marc says: “I was born long after my two sisters, I was a boy, but also the youngest. My parents financed my business school, my apartments and my trips, while my sisters multiplied the small jobs to pay for their studies. They often reproached me for being treated like a king. A huge gap has opened up between them. “Favorite children, when they are adults, often carry this as a burden. How many times have I seen patients in my office feel guilty for being the darlings and who have the feeling of being at the origin, in spite of themselves, of an injustice”, abounds Nicole Prieur. Parental preferences can thus come to light years later. And it is not the notaries who will say the opposite: “When one of the parents is no longer there, the word is freed and the inheritance is experienced not as hard and stumbling change, but as a mark of love. What am I worth to my parents? », explains Anne-Marie Sudry. Surprises, disappointments and resentment can then appear.

Following the disappearance of his parents and a stormy divorce, Marc saw a psychologist. “I understood that I was not responsible for my parents’ attitude, but that I was paying the consequences in my relationships with others. I provoked dialogue with my sisters and it was beneficial. For three years, the reunited siblings have been discovering each other. “My sisters took great care of my parents, but they always thanked me, even though I had nothing to do with it! Today, we decided to laugh about it. “And it is a nice complicity that could well be born between them.

1. His first name and those of his children have been changed.

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“That’s what I feel deep inside of me”: having a favorite child, a taboo subject?

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