Dear Dr. Yael,
I am the oldest daughter in a relatively cohesive family; I am also the favored one. As far as my parents are concerned, no one can cook like me, shop like me, run a house like me etc. I am also a very successful businesswoman who has created a thriving business in which my husband and siblings work. Sounds great?
You would think so, but it’s not easy to bear the burden of expectations and, at the same time, have your siblings be jealous of you and of your children who are the favored grandchildren.
I tell my parents that they are destroying the relationship between me and my siblings and between my children and their cousins. Their constant favoring of our family only breeds jealousy and hostility. Interestingly enough, my parents both suffered in their childhoods by being the unfavored children. Why are they continuing the cycle?
And then there are the expectations – mostly financial. My parents struggle financially and it is understood that I will pick up the slack. I helped pay for my sibling’s weddings, not because I wanted to, but because I wasn’t given a choice.
I have an older brother who is a real tzaddik and talmid chocham. As he is klei kodesh, my husband and I do our best to help him out. I have discussed with my parents how things will be after they are no longer with us and told them that they should leave the larger portion of their estate to my brother – he is the bechor and the only one amongst us who is struggling.
My parents disagree. They believe that whatever assets they have (mostly their house, which is worth a lot of money) should be split equally amongst all their children. That’s besides the jewelry my mother has which she plans to leave to me and my children and my father’s Judaica, which they plan to leave to my husband. They feel I deserve this honor since I do the most for them and the family.
Even worse than making this decision is the fact that they announced it at our family Chanukah party this year. As you can imagine, my siblings were in an uproar. I have done my best to assure them that I will be dividing everything my parents leave us evenly between the whole family. My oldest brother keeps telling me that money is meaningless and that the family is lucky to have a sister like me. He tries to talk to our younger siblings who are having more issues with the favoritism.
Dr. Respler, my parents are young and in relatively good health, so why are they doing this? Who needs this family strife? My whole family reads your column and I believe would benefit from your advice and council.
An Unhappy Favored Child
Dear Unhappy, Favored Child,
While I’m sure there are some good feelings associated with being the favored child, it is clear from your letter that most of what you feel is negative, and rightly so. Many families have a “favorite child,” but in some parents are more obvious about it. Those who don’t try to mask their favoritism, create an environment that breeds jealousy and animosity.
All the research I have seen on the “favorite child” syndrome says that although each child longs to be favored, growing up as the favorite child often has negative consequences. Sometimes it causes children to become what their parents want them to be at the expense of their own needs and wants, thus hindering their growth and independence. Baruch Hashem, this doesn’t seem to have been a problem for you.
Similar to what you are experiencing, research has also shown that demonstrating favoritism is the biggest cause of sibling rivalry. Furthermore, being the favorite child is linked with depression as the feelings of obligation towards a parent coupled with the stress of being the target of sibling rivalry can really take its toll.
It sounds as if these issues are beginning to overwhelm you. I believe it is imperative that you sit down with your parents and have a respectful, but firm, conversation with them. Perhaps your parents are upset that their other children aren’t there for them the way you are or perhaps they’re just repeating past mistakes, but this overt favoritism cannot keep going on.
Whether or not you are successful in helping your parents understand what they are doing and change their ways, your next step must be talking with your siblings. If they are as hurt and angry as you describe, a letter might be more appropriate. Either way, explain that you love them and that you have no intention of taking more than them, despite your parents’ proclamation. You can even say that you have tried speaking with your parents about this but are not sure it was successful. Make sure to reiterate that you love all of them and that you are in a lot of pain over this.
Hopefully they will respond positively, but if they don’t, it may be helpful to see a professional or a rav who can mediate between all of you.
Most of all, make sure that you find a way to have peace of mind. I wish you hatzlacha.