Sibling Rivalry – Do You Have a Favourite Son Or Daughter?

Sibling rivalry - where does it all begin?

Well - imagine your husband comes home one day and says this:

"I love you very, very much and I always will, but, I am going to have another wife in a few months. It doesn't mean I don't love you any more. You will still be very special to me but you will love my new wife as much as I do when she comes. Just think, you will be able to go shopping together and bake cakes. It will be so cool.

You will have so much fun together! You can share all your clothes and books with her - won't that be fun! She will sleep in my room for a few months but then you guys will be able to share a room! Awww - don't look so sad! You're still my number one girl!  Lots of your friends have new wives to play with. And guess what, you'll be able to help me look after her because you are such a big girl now!"

Can you imagine that? How devastated would you be? Well that's the kind of crazy shit we lay on our kids when baby number two is on the way.

And on the basis of 'the talk' about the new baby, we expect our first babies to be as over the moon as we are.  But when a younger, cuter baby bursts into their lives one sunny day, older children probably feel just as heart-broken as we would if our husbands brought a younger second wife home to live, forever. And sibling rivalry is born.

Sibling rivalry

We're gonna have another WHAT? Are you kidding me?

Sibling Rivalry - The Green Eyed Monster Is Born

My oldest son was devastated when my second son was born. He was two and a half and was sitting in the window of the delivery suite at McMaster University Hospital in Hamilton, Ontario with my mother-in-law. He was far more interested in the Noddy book she was reading than my efforts to push his brother out into the world.

(Click here to read a former post about the mother/son relationship.)

He took no notice until the new baby was put into my arms and started to suckle. I can still see my oldest son charging across the room with thunder in his heart. His little brows were furrowed and he did not take his eyes of this interloper who was now in his prized position. He manoeuvred himself up on to the bed and knelt there staring at this red-faced creature in my arms. He looked me in the eye and yelled "my num num!" Then he cried. That was the moment sibling rivalry took root in our growing family.

Sibling rivalry

Number 1 Son

Sibling rivalry

Number Two Son














Sibling rivalry is a stark reality in these moments and I am not sure how anyone can really stop it.

We had talked about the new baby, explained it all too him, shown him the baby clothes and let him feel the kicks. But that did nothing to ease the pain he clearly felt at being knocked off the top spot when baby number two arrived and demanded all my time.

Sibling rivalry is a curious thing. As the youngest of two girls, I was aware of being a 'nuisance' to my sister, older by four years, from the very start. As I grew up, she made it perfectly clear, at every opportunity,  that I was a massive annoyance. As a hapless child learning about myself and my place in the world, I took her annoyance with me on board and let it define me. That feeling has followed me all my life and I can never quite shake off that feeling of being 'in the way'. Although my intellect knows what happened, my emotions still have that feeling embedded and I know the intricacies of sibling rivalry are to blame.

With my own sons, the issue of sibling rivalry still brings tears to my eyes.

When I think of the days before my beautiful  little brown-eyed boy had his heart-broken by the new baby's arrival, I can see how such a huge change affected him after the new baby came.

We were inseparable, the love of each other's lives. But that bond changes forever when another baby is thrown into the mix and for the first time, they learn what jealously feels like. I saw it so clearly and I hurt for him. I felt as if I had let him down. I still cuddled him, made a fuss of him, read to him, talked to him and played with him. But our relationship had changed in some small way forever because I loved another baby too.

Sibling Rivalry

Mmmm - think he might be here to stay!

As they grew, my youngest son seemed to just 'know' how to push the older one's buttons and sibling rivalry would break out into open warfare.

I can't remember when he first said it, but it became a joke that persisted into adulthood - he would say "I'm the favourite - you know I am". He would say it with such reckless abandon and smile a very confident smile. It made my older son frown and withdraw. I hated it. It bothered me when he said he was my favourite. I used to argue with him and point out a mother does not have favourites. He would answer by saying, "But I am though aren't I? Just admit it." And he would laugh his head off while the other one looked really annoyed. Such is the nature of sibling rivalry which can be extremely hurtful.

The reason I always got upset, I suspect, is because somewhere deep in my soul, I may have worried that it was true. Did I have a favourite? Could that possibly happen? But then recently, it suddenly came to me that it really wasn't true and never had been. I suddenly realised why.

Sibling rivalry

Brothers going out into the world.

My first son was special in a way that no other child following in his footsteps could ever have been.

There is nothing quite like going through the experience of the first baby. The months of trying; the holding of breath when your period is late, the moment when the doctor says the words that will change your life forever and then the gradual changes in your body as the new life blossoms. It was all uncharted territory; a very exciting time. First babies will always be special because they were the first.

Sibling rivalry

The message I sent my oldest child when he graduated from university.


Son Number Two















However, my second son would always be special too because he was the last.

It was different with him. He wasn't planned and he had to kind of hit the ground running. He didn't have the same glorious start to life where we fussed over every aspect of the pregnancy and counted the days to the birth. He just arrived. And he arrived into a marriage that was rapidly falling apart.

He arrived to find an older bother who wasn't that thrilled to share his mama. The sibling rivalry was rife from the start. Things weren't that great for him really. But I loved him in spite of it all. I probably felt more protective towards him because he had been born into a battlefield situation and I felt guilty.

Sibling rivalry

My little clowns at a fancy-dress party.

Was it my protectiveness that made him think he was the favourite? I don't know.

But the truth is, I know now that I really didn't have a favourite. I am happy that I finally came to understand they are both equally special to me for different reasons. One because he was the first and the other because he was my last. As they cannot compete for either of those special places in my heart, sibling rivalry would have been pointless - I love them both with all of my heart and soul.   Can any mother really have a favourite?

The above selection of books is here for anyone who wants to understand more about sibling rivalry.


12 thoughts on “Sibling Rivalry – Do You Have a Favourite Son Or Daughter?”

  1. Another good article that makes you think, having three children who seem to go up and down in your affections depending on there attitude towards you makes life difficult at times.
    Do you love your first born more (daughter) ?.
    How about your second child but first son?.
    Then there’s your third child the lovable baby of the family?.
    Your article made me think, all I know is I love them all throu thick and thin.

    1. Thank you for reading and commenting. Yup, kids can be difficult, even when they aren’t kids anymore! Great to hear how your three are all special in their own way according to birth order. And yes, we always love them no matter what don’t we.

  2. Another lovely post, Gilly. Yes, you can have a favorite son or daughter. Luckily for me, I only have one of each so it has worked out well when I told them that they were my favorite son and daughter. Of course when they were little, they would try that emotional blackmail. “You like him more than me.” or vice versa. I always wondered how children so young could lay it on so thick. But it was wasted on me because you can’t play the player. Yes, I remember doing the same when I was young. But in my case it was valid. Really! My parents had a gender bias, and everything my brother did was okay, because he was a boy. Thank goodness, I was never convinced. Thanks for the memories. The photos are wonderful and really capture that innocence of childhood.

    1. Thank you Judith – your time in reading and commenting is appreciated. Having one of each is the perfect scenario and a definite basis for having favourites in an ok way! I’d be interested to know if your daughter is more attentive to you as an adult than your son. In my experience, and that of most of my friends who have boys, they seem to have less interest in mum as adults than girls do. Thanks again.

      1. Hello Gilly, Thanks for asking about my daughter. She is a third yr. university student and doesn’t have time for her old mum. But that is quite common at that stage, and really is not gender related. We will see as she matures how we bond as women, in addition to being mother and daughter.

        Some of my friends who just dropped off their young ones two weeks ago, say their offspring could not wait for them to leave, while they (parents), wanted to have a long goodbye, and have had only one phone call.
        I think this a Millennial thing. Like Sir Cliff Richards sings,
        “To live low
        While the flame is strong
        ‘Cause we may not be the young ones very long”

        1. Hi there Judith, it’s really interesting talking to people who are a couple of stages back from where I am now. It is helpful because it makes me look back and clearly see how my sons have moved on from the uni years and through to the stages that naturally follow. It is quite hard facing the effects of when they don’t come back to their home towns at the end of it all. My overriding feeling is now, that although I miss them so much it hurts – I am thankful they have good productive lives, even if it is several counties away! I am betting that when your daughter is older, your bond will be different to people with sons (although I am aware some sons are more attentive to parents than others). The dropping off scenario you mention rings bells too – I remember it well – it was kind of like ‘oh are you still here?’ Thanks so much for taking the time to talk .

  3. I loved your opening – it certainly illustrated how a child might feel about to the arrival of a rival for Mom’s attention in their life. I have an older brother. My brother was quite disappointed at first when I arrived – apparently he’d been expecting a playmate (same size and age as he was) so he could play with them right away. He did get over it. 😉

    1. Thank you Kate – appreciate you reading and commenting. Lots of children probably think the same as your brother did – what a shock it must be when a helpless, tiny little girl rocks up! Glad he got over it in the end. Thanks again.

  4. I could never have a favorite—although my four kids tease each other about me having one ( they each think they’re the one, ha-ha). I was also the youngest of four children but luckily I never feel competitive with my brother or sisters. Looking at these photos of your sons, I don’t think you have anything to worry about—-I’m betting they will grow up an be the best of friends!

    1. Hi Marcia, wow four kids – your house will be busy at holiday times in a few years when the grandchildren start arriving! When I dug these pictures out, I was struck by how well they seemed to get along but like most boys, they fought a lot. They didn’t turn out too bad – they are great men in their 30s now with children of their own – brilliant dads as well. Thanks for coming by – always appreciate it.

  5. I can’t stand seeing the way some parents have favorites. It kind of breaks my heart. Each child is different and parents should love them unconditionally. Your sons will be fine because you are thoughtful in your parenting – evidenced by this post. Wonderful work here, Gilly. So glad I read it.

    1. Thank you Cathy – I always appreciate it when people come to read and comment. It is sad but I guess it does happen. My sons are grown men now with very young children of their own. My oldest son has two boys and so probably now sees for himself that there are no favourites – just unconditional love like you say. Thanks again.

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