When Love is Not Enough For Our Children ~ The “Un-Favored” One by Liz Nord

I have two daughters. Olivia is six and Bella is nine. I love both our girls more than words can express and they bring a smile to my face every day. I embrace their unique personalities and have (and will always) love them both equally. I tell them all the time that I love them and that I’m proud of who they are. I show them my love by spending quality time with them, talking with them about their thoughts and feelings, making them healthy meals, reading and singing to them nightly, taking them to their extracurricular activities, helping them with homework, and all the other things us parents do. What if that’s not enough? When kids have different temperaments and personalities, they sometimes need different things from us, or maybe they need things explained differently.

One week after Olivia was born, our pediatrician said, “You’re daughters have extreme opposite temperaments.” How could he have know that when Olivia was just one week old? Turns out, he was right on. Bella is very analytical, artistic, structured, and reserved. She is quiet and introverted, and doesn’t like to obviously attract attention verbally (although she loves to perform on stage via dance and piano). She is an old soul–she thinks and talks about deep thoughts and asks serious adult questions. I love that. As a toddler, she already wanted to talk philosophy. “Tell me about Gandhi, mom.” She had claimed to see his spirit in our backyard and wanted to know who he was. When she talks, she has something important to say or ask. The only thing is that it’s hard to get her to start talking in the first place because she tends to internalize her thoughts and feelings.

Olivia is freewheeling, unstructured, outgoing, extremely talkative, moves nonstop, and says whatever she is feeling whenever she feels like it, which is pretty much constantly. She is very charismatic and physically seeks out attention and isn’t afraid to do what it takes to get it. It’s actually really hard to get her to stop talking sometimes. As a toddler, she (completely on her own and out of the blue) ripped up paper towels into little tiny pieces, threw them in the air like confetti, and screamed “PARTY-woohoo!” over and over. Who are these little angels? Where did they come from? Of course, they are both more than the few descriptive words I used above and they both want our attention and love, but what happens when one child doesn’t feel as loved?

The last few weeks my nine year old has been, well, let’s just say—challenging. She has behaved differently and I was getting concerned. She wasn’t being as nice to Olivia as usual and she was obviously angry with me. She’s been more sassy and defiant. What’s going on? I tried talking with her many times, but that got us nowhere. I asked people for advice and everyone was saying that it’s early hormonal changes, her age, normal sibling rivalry, or a phase. I knew deep down, that it was something more, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.

Last weekend it all came to a head while my husband was out of town. Bella was over the top angry and I simply couldn’t take it anymore. I told her that her sassy talk and defiant actions were not acceptable—not for one more minute. She could go to her room, write Olivia and I each an apology, and come out when she was ready to really discuss what’s going on—really talk—not, “yeah, whatever, I don’t know”. She cried and cried and cried in her room. She was screaming that I was mean and unfair. I still didn’t get what was going on.

Then she came into Olivia’s room and asked if she could please speak with me alone, in a tone that I had never heard from her before. I had a feeling that what she was about to say would be big. Honestly, I was a little nervous, but also excited that she was ready to talk. We sat on the floor in her room and she looked up at me with tears in her eyes and said, “I just really feel like you love Olivia more than me.” Tears streamed down my face and hers. My heart broke, and I felt horrible. She meant it. This was not an act or ploy to get her way. She was hurting.

I picked her up and she let me cradle her in my arms like a newborn. I told her the truth: That I love both her and her sister equally. I told her that I could imagine how she felt because Olivia is younger and requires more help doing certain things. Olivia also has a severe food allergy, so she has special needs and we have to be extra cautious around food. I told her that because Olivia has a different personality, she actively seeks attention. I told Bella all the ways I could think of, that I love her and that she is wonderful, fantastic, and special just the way she is. I knew I must tread carefully to fix this. I was so afraid to screw this moment up. We talked and held each other for a long while. Thankfully and surprisingly, Olivia knew not to interrupt this closed-door discussion. After we were done talking, I tucked her into bed, sang them their favorite songs, and cried myself to sleep. I really didn’t feel like talking with anyone.

I was so afraid for the morning. What would she be like? Would she be hurt and angry still? Did I get through to her? Does she believe me? Have we done permanent damage? I was so relieved when she crawled in bed with me the next morning, snuggled up to me, and told me that she felt so much better. Oh, the relief! The last week has been amazingly better. I feel such a deeper connection with her. I reached through to her and made a difference. I am so thankful!

I came to realize that although I love both my girls equally I do need to change a few things. One, I need to spend more alone time with each child. Two, I need to better encourage and help Bella to express her needs and feeling more easily. Three, I need to be more mindful to how I respond to the girls, who both want attention, but have different ways of expressing themselves. Four, I need to not beat myself up over this because I really am doing the best I know how. We all try so hard to love our kids the best we can and to keep them safe from harm, but sometimes loving is not enough. Sometimes we need to do more than tell them and show them that we love them. I know many adults who sometimes still have the lingering feelings that their sibling is the favorite. We need to tell our children that we love them equally—have that conversation. What is so obvious to us parents, sometimes takes a little explaining to our children. It is so worth it!

Did you feel your sibling was/is favored? How did that make you feel? Did it affect your relationship with your sibling long-term? Did you talk to your parents about it? Did they help?

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13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Marsha
    Mar 02, 2011 @ 07:52:30

    Great story! I am actually the Bella of your two and my younger brother is Olivia. I actually have six brothers altogether and I was the princess until the dragged my younger brother home from the hospital. He suddenly took the spotlight almost the moment he arrived. He was the unplanned miracle and as if being a miracle wasn’t enough he started having unexplained seizures and I faded to the back burner. Internalize most everything and can not help but analyze (in my head) little things that most people wouldn’t give a second thought. Now that I am all grown up I can look back and understand that my little brother needed more help and attention. I now appreciate the strength and abilities that my parents saw in me which allowed them to give my baby brother the extra care that he needed. My mom has passed just over a year now and guess who my little but big brother looks toward for assistance with his struggles with life?

    Reply

    • Liz
      Mar 02, 2011 @ 13:47:51

      Thanks, Marsha.

      I’m sorry to hear about your mom. I’m glad you can see it now that you are older, but I bet it would have helped to have felt that way when you were younger. I’m an internalizer too, but I’m trying to change that. :)

      Have a great day!

      Reply

  2. Marsha
    Mar 02, 2011 @ 07:54:52

    Sorry for the typos. I probably shouldn’t have replied from my iPhone.:/

    Reply

  3. kbomb78
    Mar 02, 2011 @ 08:40:58

    I Love it, I fell like I (unintentionally) Play favorites with my daughter and here is why there are 7 years between my kids. I had my son at 23 and my daughter at 30. This makes a world of diffrence. My son always says I am nicer to DD than him. I Guess I expect more out of a 10 Year old than a 3 Year old. But you hit the nail on the head with seperate time. Sometimes Hubby will keep my daughter and my son and I will go eat Hot wings and Go Bowling or watch a movie. It has helped :)

    Reply

    • Liz
      Mar 02, 2011 @ 15:52:07

      Hi kbomb78,

      Okay first, now I’m really curious what your first name is!

      Second, Don’t you find it hard to get alone time with your loved ones on an ongoing basis? I do!

      Reply

  4. Myra Elwell
    Mar 02, 2011 @ 09:22:59

    Growing up, I always felt my brother was favored. He still is. My parents go out of their way to help him, even to thier own detriment. I’ve made it a point never to ask them for help unless it’s an absolute last resort. With my own kids, I tried very hard not to make them feel the way I felt growing up. My youngest is my biggest challenge. Right now, she’s the last one at home and she gets angry with me because she says I love her step-dad more than her. That’s a tough one to combat sometimes. Especially since *HE* gets jealous over the amount of attention I give to *HER*. Sometimes, I just bluntly tell them both “I love you. When you feel you can talk about this in a reasonable manner, then we will. Until then, I’m taking the dog for a walk.” then me and the dog get in the car and go somewhere for a LONG walk. This gives them time to think and realize that the angry, tantruming, yelling, hissy fit methods aren’t acceptable to me so when I come home, they are more willing to talk about what’s really going on.
    I try to make sure I spend time with each of them alone and do things with them and for them. I think that’s all you can really do.
    ME

    Reply

  5. Heather
    Mar 02, 2011 @ 16:07:30

    I am dealing with the same issues with my 2 children, so this post hit home for me. I just want to say thank you for sharing it. I feel better knowing that I am not alone in this situation. My 8 yr old son has been feeling this way about his 5 yr old sister, & has been treating her very harshly because of it. I hope I handle this situation with as much kindness & grace as you did.

    Reply

  6. Kerner71
    Mar 03, 2011 @ 10:14:09

    Wonderful post! I think everybody who has siblings has felt these thoughts and emotions at times in their lives. I know my children’s personalities match those of your daughters, and I have forgotten that my oldest may be feeling the same things Bella was feeling. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for reminding that I need to reassure her like you did.
    Best to you!

    Reply

  7. Coach Karen
    Mar 06, 2011 @ 16:12:00

    Having 5 children in a blended family (the 4 oldest are my step-children), I struggle with this as well. I try to tell each of them “I love you” each day. As a step-parent, I find it especially important to let my non-biological children know I love them just as much. (Note: We don’t use”step-parent” or “step-sibling” in our household as not to encourage differences.)

    Spending time with each child is also important. My middle daughter and I like to go shopping, one son likes Legos and board games, another likes to be challenged with math problems and loves making smoothies in the kitchen. I find ways to connect with them at their interest level … and make the TIME to spend with them and tell them I love them.

    Thanks, Liz!

    Reply

  8. Lori Galloway
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 10:05:36

    I read this post yesterday and it hit me really hard. I really wanted to post a comment, but I was so emotional about it that I actually could not bring myself to write. So after taking it all in and processing it, I would like to say thank you.

    I have two daughters, ages 7 and 9, soon to 8 and 10. Addy and Mallory are 21 months apart in age, but one grade apart in school. I also have a son, Mitchell, who will be 13 this summer. I, too, can say my love for them is equal and each child is incredibly special to me. Mallory is like your oldest daughter. Talking with her is like talking to an adult. She spoke early, processes everything before reacting, is an A student and beautiful girl. Addy is like your younger one, “freewheeling, unstructured, outgoing, extremely talkative, moves nonstop, and says whatever she is feeling whenever she feels like it, which is pretty much constantly. She is very charismatic and physically seeks out attention and isn’t afraid to do what it takes to get it. It’s actually really hard to get her to stop talking sometimes.” She will even pass gas at home, because “it” was there. She shouldn’t have to say excuse me because it was just there and it came out. Mitchell struggles in school and with friends. He just wants to fit in and be included. He has no problem speaking his mind at home, but is rather quiet at school.

    I still don’t know if I am doing any of them any favors, but your post really made me stop and take a closer look at our family dynamics. Last evening, I listened a little more closely and was a little more attentive. They may not have noticed, but I sure did.

    Thanks again for the post.

    Reply

    • Liz
      Mar 15, 2011 @ 17:19:30

      Hi Lori,

      Thank you so much for writing in and sharing your thoughts! Sometimes it is a struggle for me to slow down long enough to consciously see what is really going on with the family dynamics. It’s a shift in thinking that I have to practice at. I think the kids notice more than they let on too. I also think it takes time to change family dynamics, but I think it’s possible and so worth it! Good for you!

      I love this quote: “There is no way to be a perfect mother, and a million ways to be a good one.” ~ Jill Churchill

      Reply

  9. Krissy Dietrich Gallagher
    Apr 20, 2011 @ 19:46:12

    Oh man, have I been down this road. And what is typical sibling rivalry or jealousy in most families is heightened in mine by the fact that my younger son, 4 1/2, has had cancer twice. Obviously, his needs over the years have been great and immediate and, despite all our best efforts, our older son, 7, has inevitably felt overlooked. We have had to work so hard to reinforce how much we love him and how deeply we care for him — sometimes he believes us and sometimes not. One of my favorite books to read to the boys is I Love You The Purplest — it is a wonderful example of a mother seeing and celebrating each child’s unique strengths. And they always seems to sleep a little more soundly after hearing it.
    Krissy Gallagher
    The Luckiest

    http://krissygallagher.wordpress.com

    Reply

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