Most siblings suspect that their mom has a favorite kid — and they’re right that she probably has one. But if you don’t happen to be the golden child, know that the position isn’t as enviable as you might think — at least according to new research showing that children who believe they are emotionally closest to their moms had more depressive symptoms as adults than their siblings.
Although favorite children benefit from having close-knit, supportive relationship with their mothers, Purdue University researchers theorize that it can come with a price: serious sibling rivalry.
“The quality of sibling relationships is a factor in wellbeing,” J. Jill Suitor, professor of sociology at Purdue University, tells Yahoo Parenting. “When adult children perceive that their parents favor one child over another, there’s more sibling conflict.”
The study involved 725 adult children from 309 families who were a part of the Within-Family Differences Study — a longterm research project on the relationship between parents and their adult children. Suitor has been working on it for 17 years with collaborators Megan Gilligan, assistant professor of human development at Iowa State University, and Karl Pillemer, professor of human development at Cornell University. At the start of the study in 2001, the mothers were between 65 and 75 years old. The researchers gathered data on children’s perceptions of favoritism every seven years to see the longterm effects.
It’s also possible that adult favorite children are more likely to be depressed because they face a greater burden when it comes to caring for their aging parents, according to Suitor. This is on top of trying to take care of their own families and manage their own careers. “Children who are very close to their moms are concerned that they’re now going to have to help more,” she says. “There’s also a sense of ‘maybe I can do something’ [to help], but when mom is in her 80s and she is having serious health problems, maybe you can’t make it okay. You feel sad and wish you could make things better, even though these are things that are out of our control.”
Suitor points out that the research shows how common this favoritism dynamic is in families. “If you feel that your mom prefers your sibling over you, know from the study that you’re not alone,” she says. “People tend to think that their family is dysfunctional and no other family is like this, but most families have some [issues] that we’ve seen in this study.”
Suitor’s advice to moms: “You can’t change your feelings [about which child is your favorite], but try to minimize that rather emphasize.”
(Photo: Getty Images)