Home About Dr Gayle Counseling Services Speaking Services Online Seminars Articles Press Room Books Contact

Ask Dr. Gayle

I Don't Love My Children Equally

QUESTION: I have a daughter who is nearly four and a son who is 19-months-old. My daughter is difficult and can be whiny and irritable. My son, on the other hand, is a delightful child. I have tried so hard (and for the most part succeeded) to treat them equally. The problem is that I genuinely find that my son is more lovable than my daughter. I feel very guilty about this.

ANSWER: It is not uncommon for parents to find a particular child easier to relate to than another. But do not mistake ease for "lovability."

Your problem may lie in your comparison of your two children, rather than your love for them. Perhaps it is not that you find your son more lovable, but simply easier for you to parent at this time. And you may expect your love to feel the same, when in fact your love for each is quite distinct by nature.

Perhaps this was an issue in your own childhood. Your parents may have found it necessary to assure you and your siblings that you were all loved equally. Your parents may have equated loving you equally with being treated the same.

Keep in mind that you will always love each child differently, because they are different people. And you will not treat them the same because their needs are unique. Your tendency to compare them may be inherited from previous generations. The good news is that you do not have to continue to approach motherhood in this way. Instead, consider each child from their own perspective.

For starters, let's take a look at birth order to help you begin this process. Your son has the advantage of an older sibling in his environment, which is, itself, highly entertaining! And he enjoys the confidence of an experienced mother to boot. Keep in mind that your first child paved the way for him. Being a first born, she not only had to break you in, but experienced the change of having to share you with her brother.

Introducing a new sibling when your daughter was two could have created some insecurity for her. It is at this stage that she first experienced conflict about her growing independence from you. Child psychologists generally advise three years spacing between children in order to avoid adding to the developmental stress of this period. She may have regressed to clinging when the second child arrived, rather than achieving greater autonomy.

Generally speaking, second born children are often said to be more easy going than firstborns. This makes some sense when we take into account that a second is fitting into a family structure that is already in place. In a stable home, second children are like kittens welcomed into a litter. They may garner their sense of security from the group, and so show less jealousy, at least initially, than their older sibling who experiences the shift in the family when a new baby arrives on the scene.

Spend one on one time with your daughter on a daily basis. And ask her father to do the same. Over the next six months you may find that she gradually becomes more independent. It may be that she just needs some extra time to adjust and be assured of her place in the family, once more.

Reflect on your own relationship with your mother as it may also bear on your expectations with your daughter. You may be disappointed if she is different from yourself, for example, if your own mother and you felt a bond of alikeness to one another. Or, an emotional distance from your own mother may replicate itself in the next generation.

Work toward achieving a separate experience with your two children, as you would experience a rose differently from an orchid. One is no more beautiful or lovable, but depending on your climate, a rose can be a lot easier to care for than an orchid. Or you may be familiar with the rose, but need to learn how to nurture an orchid before it will bloom!

Talk with your husband about your feelings and identify your little girl's attributes, as well as her insecurities. Use your honesty as a springboard for growth. Give yourself time with your daughter to explore more of who she is and who she can become. It may be that it is the mother-daughter relationship that needs time to blossom in order to feel a special love that is reserved just for her!

Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

Return to Dr. Gayle Peterson's Home Page

Copyright 1996-2003.  Gayle Peterson All rights reserved.

Send Comments and Inquiries to Dr. Gayle Peterson at gp@askdrgayle.com