This question was recently discussed in a radio show: Do parents have a favorite among their children? Later I had a chance to read about the same subject in a weekly magazine.
I am one of five children and hence I can speculate on the answer from a “Child’s” point of view! We have only one son. Hence it is not a question I can answer as a parent! If you answer the question as a parent or as a child, in either case the answer would stem from a narrow set of data, observations, conjectures and the judgment as a result of it. One of the comments in the magazine article read, “My favorite child was the one causing me the least aggravation at a given time”! ** There seems to be a lot of truth in this confession. Despite my best efforts to behave otherwise, I cannot honestly say that I did not cause some aggravations for my parents at least some time!
** TIME, Oct. 10, 2011 Page 4
Instead of answering the question literally, let us ponder on certain philosophic aspects this question raises!
As soon as the question is raised, the assumption that comes to our mind is that the discussion of favoritism pertains to one’s own child. Do not get me wrong! It is very natural. Children cannot exist without someone caring for them. But, is it possible to forego such close allegiance to one’s own child and show favoritism to the child, not one’s own? Is there a time, when we let go of our bondage and demonstrate that in our action? If not, why not? It is instinctively human to be inseparably connected with our family and children. Yet independence from connections and bondage is what we aspire for as the goals in our evolution, in our thinking and in any philosophic outlook on life. Is there then an inherent contradiction between who we are and who we want to be?
Once there was a little boy in a small village. There were several elderly women, also living in the village. Their children were grown up and had left the village to live in far off places, seeking better economic opportunities in life. These grandmas were literate enough to read the letters they received, but could not write on their own. The young boy served as a scribe to write letters for these grandmas. He did so, because it appeared natural to him to help these elders in need. He never made a big deal out of it, nor did he carry in his mind, what he had scribed. Thus privacy of communication was protected, which made this process even more attractive for the grandmas. Nothing seemed special for this young boy. It was a normal course of life in this little village. As time went by, the young boy grew up and found his way to higher education, a job and better life in a place far away from the village. After a few decades, when he returned home, he was approached by another village elder, who told him, “Do you remember the grandmas from your young days? They all have passed away. But,every one of them said, before their departure that you were their favorite grandchild in this village”!
Favoritism becomes observable only through a pattern that is established and observable to others (and especially the child). When we have choices, we are forced to pick one among the options. There is a basket of apple and I pick one among them. By my choice, I have expressed a preference – favoritism – to the apple in my hand. It is hard for an on-looker (someone outside of me) to determine merely by looking at a single incident, if my choice was random or motivated by certain preference attached to it. With few samples or incidences it is difficult to establish a trend, bias, preference and hence “favoritism”. But, if I have enough number of incidences and no one can yet determine a trend – a pattern – then, one may conclude that I have no preference or favoritism in picking one apple over the other. Yet, each incidence of picking an apple is an event, where I have picked my favorite apple from all the rest in the basket! On each occasion, in myriad incidents of life, we constantly make choices. Hence from my own point of view, I need to realize that every choice I make is a measure of “favoritism” over other available alternatives! Would that imply that as long as we are part of the human species, with our ability to make choices, it is futile to reject the notion that we do not have favoritism in our mind?
The real issue behind our subject question appears to be our common notion of the word “favorite”. This word could mean preference, with reasons and logic and objective analysis behind it. The same word could also be seen as an outcome of desire, due to bias, partiality, and discrimination and in the worst of cases due to prejudice. Thus we could have one child as a favorite for their ability and interests in certain aspects of life, while another child could also be a favorite for certain other dimensions. This is reflected from the following quote from the same reference mentioned above: My eldest son, at age six asked, “Do I love my youngest the most? I answered honestly, “You are completely different people. I don’t know if I can love two people exactly the same”!
In a larger sense the mother’s answer – quoted above – goes for all aspects of life. We have friends, colleagues, relatives, neighbors. Every one among all these groups of people creates opportunities and circumstances and we relate to them based on each incident and the choice we make with respect to that incident. That is our life. In this panorama of possibilities we constantly make choices. It will be futile to believe that we do not make choices and hence do not exhibit our preferences. But, the real question is this: Do such choices arise out of objective analysis of the situation and the appropriate choices they warrant or are such choices based on a pattern, with bias as the dominant connector at play. If the latter is the case, then “favoritism” as understood in the common parlance will exist and will be visible to those outside of us, including the child, while we continue to reject that notion, from within.