Many siblings, when they get together as adults, joke about which child was loved the most. But is it really a joke or is there an edge of truth that still rankles us?
In one study, researchers asked adults whether their mum played favourites when they were kids. Close to 85 per cent of respondents perceived that she did.
But surely once we move out of the nest, our annoyance regarding sibling favouritism subsides? Not so. Upset from perceived favouritism appears to be long-lasting.
It is likely that we will fret long into adulthood over why a particular sibling got a better deal than we did.
Mums confess… the time I was a bad mum.
Is sibling favouritism real, or perceived?
It turns out parents do behave differently with their children and, of course, children have their different thresholds for noticing these differences.
Researchers have studied favouritism both by observing children as they interact with their parents and by asking children and their parents to report on their interactions. How often do the parent and child laugh or play together? How often do they fight or argue?
These ratings are then compared across the different siblings to determine if one child receives more positive or negative attention than the other.
One of the reassuring findings from these studies is that when the differences in how siblings are treated by parents are small, it has little to no consequence.
It is only when the differences are large that we see links to children’s health and relationships.
Parental stress plays a role
Research on all different kinds of relationships shows us that a big part of how we get along with others is about the fit of personalities. We find one person easier or more interesting than another. The same holds for parents and children.