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Can Parents Love Each Child the Same and Treat Them Differently?

“I once read an article regarding the relationship between parents and adoptive children. The central idea of the article was the idea that we find a deeper connection between ourselves and people who are similar to us. So, children of life-long jocks will tend to be athletic in the first place and likely will have an interest besides because of their natural ability in the area. Bond. Children of nerds (like mine) tend to be very smart and will have an interest in learning as do their parents. Bond. So, what happens when a jock-child is adopted into a nerd-family or vice-versa? My adopted child’s talents/interests and my own do not align and therefore we won’t bond as closely as my child whose talent/interest do align. This does not mean that they are any less mine or that I love them any less. But I may very well bond with my own child more than an adopted child because that is the nature of things.

So, to your questions, I think that within a genetic (non-adoptive) family, this can still occur to a greater or lesser extent. Would I love a jock-child? Of course, but I will bond more closely with a nerd-child. An emotionally healthy parent will still treat each child the same to the best of their ability, but I think biases are inescapable. And for a less-healthy parent it can be bad for the kid.”

“I raised my children with same house rules consistently which gave fairness. First, one to push, hit etc., first one right or wrong would have the consequences. They all had chores which made them feel part of the family. School was the priority chore and they were responsible for all schoolwork and I would suggest when to be done, however they chose (started in Kindergarten). How I parented the children on issues, events or circumstances were based on their personalities. The two oldest have graduated college in 4 years and have successful careers. The youngest is still in school and time will tell.”

“Having three kids and fostering/raising some others years ago, there is an intuition required to navigate house rules and the individuals. One kid wilted if we corrected her, one rebelled and one being special needs, namely Autism, was another parenting manual altogether. It takes constant monitoring and presence — [being in] the present moment to determine the scale of discipline given the latest offense. ABC, as my Dad taught me — Antecedent, Behavior, Consequence — What started the behavior. What is understood about the outcome. I have spent their whole lives saying, This and That, as a way to create context for understanding themselves, each other, friends, teachers, their father and me.”

“As one of six, I can say that Mom pulled off making everyone feel special in a unique way. Her idea was always that needs are different, love is not. I can’t think of one of my siblings who doesn’t feel the same way … I will say that as the first child, I wasn’t allowed to do some things my siblings were permitted, but that was a function of growing confidence rather than favoritism. I did get to use this once when an Indian (from India) 11-year-old asked me ‘Were you British … [and then] so then why are you not part of the Commonwealth?’ A great question. I said, ‘Well, we were the first child of the Empire, and parents are always strictest with the first, aren’t they?’ Most eldest children smiled and agreed. ‘So, we had to have a revolution. The younger ones.’ Everyone’s laughter supported the point.”

“My sister and were definitely NOT treated the same… too many differences to list! Gender differences were excuses, when we were born (I was the oldest so I should know better…), and double standards when it came to us hitting each other! I was always on the losing end of that scene!”

“Having two, my attention first and foremost went wherever it was needed. May have felt uneven at times with the other sibling. However whichever one was feeling the lack, I always tried to make extra special alone time with them.”

“I read a parenting article many years ago called ‘The Folly of Fairness’. It was excellent, pointing out not only that ‘life is not fair’ but a wiser approach in raising children is to encourage them to ‘rejoice in their brother’s (sibling’s) good fortune’ when it appears one is being blessed or rewarded in some way over another. This makes sense to me, the idea of ‘compassion training’ because our selfish human tendency is to think of ‘me, first’. For example, I’m at a yard sale and find overalls that would be perfect for my 3-year-old son. Am I now obliged to find something perfect for the 5-year-old, or 1-year-old, or whatever as a result? Doing so sets my kids up to expect that from the world at large (i.e., life is not fair). Instead encouraging them to ‘rejoice’ (‘Hey, this is great! New overalls for Aidan!’) and patiently wait for the moment when they are the ones unexpectedly blessed. I didn’t read previous comments but will also mention that as you point out, since each child is unique, try first to respond to that. But also, consistency in discipline when specific family rules are broken — if 5 minutes of time out is the rule for taking food out of the kitchen, it applies to everyone (parents, too!).”

An ancient reminder comes from Proverbs 28:21 “Playing favorites is always a bad thing; you can do great harm in seemingly harmless ways.”

Can Parents Love Each Child the Same and Treat Them Differently?

Edie Weinstein, MSW, LSW

Edie Weinstein, MSW, LSW is a journalist and interviewer, licensed social worker, interfaith minister, radio host and best-selling author.

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APA Reference
Weinstein, E. (2018). Can Parents Love Each Child the Same and Treat Them Differently?. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 4, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 7 Nov 2017)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.