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The Favorite Child, part 2

Whether mom’s golden child or her black sheep, siblings who sense that their mother consistently favors or rejects one child over others are more likely to show depressive symptoms as middle-aged adults. –from a study on “parental favoritism”

Last week we ran part one of an interview with Purdue University sociologist Jill Suitor who for more than two decades has studied family issues, with a particular interest in how favoritism impacts children.Her most recent study was the first to look at how being mom’s favorite—or not—impacts adults. 

The study drew on research from in-person interviews with hundreds of Boston-area moms followed by telephone interviews with their adult children.  The results found that adult children who believe their mother played favorites were more likely to be depressed. Symptoms ranged from feeling lonely, sad, and unmotivated, to trouble concentrating and other negative feelings across the spectrum. 

In a phone interview, Prof. Suitor recently discussed her research with Mothering21:

Previous research had indicated that children and teens to be negatively impacted by favoritism but what about adults?

There was always assumption that if there was an impact among adults it either went away or didn’t matter or no one was willing to admit to it.  Now we find that it seems to have a very similar effect in adults as in childhood.

Do adult children still care about which sibling is the golden child?

If anything perceptions of favoritism are even stronger in adults and may be more prominent in adulthood.

When you asked adult children if there was a favorite child were they accurate,  based on what the mom told you?

 Kids are right about 75 percent of time as to whether mom named a favorite but accurate only about half the time which child is the favorite one.

 Which adult children were likely to guess wrong?

 The kids almost 100 certain that “of course, mom choose me” were the most inaccurate. Mom must do something that makes them aware of that because they are accurate that there’s favorite but not which child. So how do they know that but guess wrong so often? We’re looking into that now.

 We know from your research that the favorite child is often the one the mother feels most emotionally close to and the most supportive of her.  As we grow older does the favorite’s child remain the same?

 We are just beginning to study this issue and the question of whether a mother goes to the same child all the time for support, or does she go to different child when unhappy or for advice or to go with her to the doctor. We’re trying to figure out if there’s truly an all-purpose favorite child and what make a difference in consequences.


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