by Jay Payleitner
Remember The Smothers Brothers variety show? It was highly rated and filled with cutting-edge comedy. TV legend has it that the NBC execs were continually censoring jokes and bits that pushed the envelope of propriety. Thinking back, it was all very tame by today’s standards. (The impact of television on the degradation of the culture is a discussion we can have some other time.)
But this article is dedicated to the punch line often used by Tommy Smothers during his snappy banter with bis brother, Dick. When Dick got the upper hand in an argument, Tommy would get quiet for a moment and then say, “Oh yeah. Well, Mom always liked you best.” It always got a laugh.
Now here’s where my article turns serious.
Twice in the last couple weeks I have heard about married couples who have two kids and for some reason, they show a significant, noticeable preference for one child over the other.
Now I don’t know all the specifics. And I’m not giving any hints to who they are or where they live. But the entire concept made my gut tighten and my teeth grind.
Apparently, in both households, the parents would intentionally choose to spend more time with one child and speak obvious words of discouragement to the other. Imagine any child still in his or her formative years receiving a clear message that “My parents prefer my sibling to me.” Or “My parents love my sibling more than me.” That’s near criminal.
I highly doubt the parents in question are reading this article. Still, dad, if you are recognizing yourself in the above paragraphs, take heed. Make sure both your kids — all your kids — feel loved, special, gifted, challenged, and destined for greatness. A parent’s expectations and words of affirmation (especially dad’s) goes a long way toward framing a future of achievement and helping a child reach their potential.
I have five kids. And believe me they have a wide range of gifts and abilities. Somehow they all continue to surprise Rita and me with their accomplishments. Best of all, they cheer each other on along the way. If you’re around me long enough, you will hear me brag about Alec, Randall, Max, Isaac, Rae Anne and my daughter-in-law Rachel. And I honestly think I love them all equally.
But enough about my family. The questions to ask yourself, dad, are these: “Do my kids all know I love them without condition?” “Do I pay sincere compliments and give authentic encouragement to all my kids?” “Have I helped each of my children explore their God-given gifts and talents and find a few things they’re good at?” “Despite their differences, do my kids all get about the same amount of my personal attention?”
A few side notes:
- One of your kids may gravitate toward sports, hobbies and interests that have always been favorites for you. That’s not a bad thing. But don’t play favorites. Intentionally make yourself an expert in the interests of your other kids. (You may find some new hobbies!)
- One of your kids may be a self-starter. Independent. A free spirit that doesn’t seem to need you as much. (But they still do!)
- One of your kids may be high maintenance. They exhaust you and drain your energy. Don’t let them steal your time. But also don’t avoid them. Find that middle ground.
- One of your kids may have already checked out because they perceive themselves as second rate. Pull them back in! Build a bridge. Be their hero.
- Dad, perhaps there are just different ages your kids pass through that feel more comfortable for you, and so you gravitate toward each of your kids when they are that particular age. Four year olds may make you smile. Tweens may scare you to death. Or vice versa.
Like so many parenting challenges, just shining a light on the issue will help you come up with balanced solutions. A great way to do that is to talk about some of these issues openly as a family. Kids know what’s going on. They talk. They see how busy life is. But they may not realize that family dynamics flow through different priorities and mandates. For a season, one kid may require and deserve more attention than their siblings.
In a series of discussions — or during one big family meeting — you can point out that finding a college for Frieda is going to be a major focus of the next year. Or that Herbie is going through a tough time adjusting to middle school. Or certainly that we all need to pitch in to help with the newborn triplets.
And maybe that’s the best point. Dad, feel free to say, “We’re all in this together.” What’s more, “If any of you are feeling abandoned or frustrated or short-changed, let’s talk about it. But no matter what, there will be no storming out of the room.”
Finally, if you are just now realizing that one of your kids has been neglected, go to them ASAP. Tell them you just came to this realization and apologize. Go overboard making it up to them. Spend time doing what they want to do for hours on end until they say, “Dad, get a life.” And then zing back with this beauty, “Sorry, dude. You and the rest of this family are my life.”
Jay K. Payleitner is author of the book 52 Things Kids Need from a Dad. Jay is also a marketing consultant, speaker, and fathering advocate. Jay and his wife Rita have five children and live in Illinois. More about Jay.