What to Do If I Have a Favorite Child?

Mighty Mommy tackles the ultimate parenting taboo: having a favorite child. Turns out, it's very common. And here's why you shouldn't feel guilty about it.

Cheryl Butler
7-minute read
Episode #526

Last week, I received a phone message from an anonymous Mighty Mommy listener asking for input on a question that many parnts struggle with:  “I’m really feeling quite guilty about this—I have two children and I can honestly say that I like one more than the other. Help!”

Firstly, I’d like to thank my listener for bringing up this taboo parenting topic. Lots of parents actually feel this way, but we often hide our true feelings for fear of judgment.

In my experience of raising eight kids, I learned quickly that no two children are the same and the truth is that I don’t always feel equally about each of them either.

70% of dads and 74% of moms report preferential treatment toward one child.

So today, Mighty Mommy tackles how to deal with having a favorite child so you won’t be riddled with guilt for the rest of your parenting life:

Love and Favoritism Are Not the Same

I first became a mother through adoption, so I didn’t have the physical challenges of delivering a baby and was able to enjoy her without dealing with a sore, postpartum body. Although I did have the normal anxiety associated with adoption, I was finally a mother after a long struggle with infertility so my focus was on enjoying my newborn. The love I felt for her was like nothing else I’d ever experienced.

One year later, I delivered my first son and the experience was totally different. Truthfully there was nothing enjoyable about it. The labor and delivery were rough, breastfeeding was a nightmare, and my son didn’t tolerate most of the formulas we tried. I’m honest in saying that I didn’t enjoy this experience at all like I did our daughter’s adoption, but the love I felt for him was still pure and deep.

In Psychology Today’s article "Do Parents Have Favorite Children?" Dr. Ellen Weber Libby discusses three principles regarding favoritism: Can children be treated equally? How do love and favoritism differ? Can who's the favorite change? Her take is that love and favoritism are not the same. “Love connotes tender feelings and strong affection usually accompanied by loyalty and devotion. In contrast, favoritism implies choosing or preferring one person over another. Parents may love all their children, and at certain times, prefer or favor one over others.”

I totally relate to this explanation. I have a deep love for all my kids, but the approach each one needs is as different and unique as they are. 

Dr. Libby also notes that although parents may love all their children, at certain times they may favor one over another. As in my example of adopting and giving birth, I totally enjoyed my adoption experience over my first delivery. Because of that, I found it easier to bond with my daughter at the beginning than I did my son. The example used in the article also refers to parents favoring one child over another depending on the circumstances that the parent is faced with. The example was a parent having a tough day at work and favoring her child with the easy-going personality over the one who is a handful.


All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Cheryl Butler Project Parenthood

Cheryl L. Butler was the host of the Mighty Mommy podcast for nine years from 2012 to 2021. She is the mother of eight children. Her experiences with infertility, adoption, seven pregnancies, and raising children with developmental delays have helped her become a resource on the joys and challenges of parenting. You can reach her by email.