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When Parents Play Favorites

"After three sons, I desperately wanted a girl. As soon as my daughter was born, I felt an instant connection with her — and have preferred her among my four children over the years," confesses Janice* of Cincinnati. "I identify with her issues, and we share so many interests — from shopping to the ballet — that my sons couldn't care less about. Do I play favorites? Yeah. And do I feel horrid about it? Of course I do."

Chances are, if you have more than one child, you can relate. Favoritism happens. With each new child and at each new parenthood stage, family dynamics change. Emotional alliances form and shift and then shuffle again. Much as we try to be fair, some days we may silently admit to ourselves that the painful inner answer to the question "Who do you love more — Jamie or me?" is "Jamie."

It's not a comfortable discovery. Favoritism is parenting's dirty little secret: the no-no that gnaws at our aspiration to follow a policy of fairness with our children.

*Name has been changed.

Sue Woodman is a journalist specializing in health, parenting, and social issues, and a mother of two in New York City.