Ask Scary Mommy is Scary Mommy’s advice column, where our team of “experts” answers all the questions you have about life, love, body image, friends, parenting, and anything else that’s confusing you.
This week: What do you do when it’s clear your husband has a favorite child? Have your own questions? Email email@example.com
Dear Scary Mommy,
My husband and I have two sons, ages 6 and 9. My husband has a favorite child. He by far prefers our youngest son, it’s clear to me every single day. He’s not cruel or negligent of our older son, but he’s just a totally different dad with our 6-year-old. He’s happier, more relaxed, and lets him get away with just about anything. He’s much harder on our oldest son, and doesn’t seem to enjoy his company as much or ask him to do things one-on-one. It’s really hard to watch, even if it might be subtle. I’ve tried to bring this up to him, but he dismisses it entirely and says it’s just a “youngest child thing.” I’m an oldest child myself, so I understand how damaging that birth order thing can be. How do I get him to stop playing favorites?
It’s not subtle. If you’re writing to an advice column because the favoritism is affecting you enough to seek help over it, then the favoritism is not subtle. It likely isn’t subtle to your oldest son, either. Or your youngest, for that matter. I’m sorry if that’s hard to hear. But I’m glad you’re acknowledging things need to change, even if your husband isn’t.
When parents offer one child more positive feedback or encouragement that they do not offer to their other children, the child who is NOT on the receiving end of positivity from their parent is more likely to have behavioral and emotional problems and a more difficult relationship—with both of you. And possibly even their other sibling.
Bottom line: your husband’s behavior is affecting the entire family. And he may not see it, let alone intend for it to be unfolding this way, but that doesn’t change the impact of the damage he’s inflicting whether he means to or not.
When you bring it up with your husband again (and you should, regularly and as often as it takes), cite specific examples of when it was clear he appeared to be favoring your youngest son. In some families, one child might need more attention or support than their siblings. If this is the case in your home (it’s not clear whether it is or isn’t) then your husband needs to be clear with you and your oldest son about why he’s parenting his children differently.
The best approach is for both of you to stay aware of how you’re treating both children. Remain conscious of your words, actions, and approach. If your husband is unable to try this, I suggest counseling—for both of you. Individually and together, if you can swing it. [Believe me, I know how hard it is to swing it. For your sake, I hope he’s willing to cut the crap and start working on how he parents both children.]
Cycles can be broken, and so can patterns of toxic behavior. Not acknowledging the reality of the damage he’s causing—albeit indirectly—by having a “favorite” child will hold both of your children back in ways they don’t deserve. Feel free to show this post to your husband, as well as different examples you can bring to his attention. Have him talk to your oldest to hear how he feels. Communication is a great place to start. Keep me posted.