What to do when your parents prefer a sibling to you

Bella asks: What I’m going to say might sound stupid, but I have a strong feeling that my parents prefer my sister over me. Not that they hate me, but the way they act with her is completely different from the way they act with me. One day we are on good terms, but then a week later they are ignoring me! Any advice on what I should do???

Hi Bella –


It’s hard to talk about this issue, I know.  Parents always want to believe that they treat (and love) all their children the same, but of course at different times, they’re going to “miss the target” on that.  Some parents can’t help but prefer the kid who’s best-behaved, while others just feel more fondness for the one who’s the more troublesome!  And the affection might switch over time.


Meanwhile, it’s absolutely normal for their kids to want, and even demand, equality.  When kids are very young, they simply want everything Mom and Dad can offer at all times; then they are taught to share and act with fairness, so they expect to be treated fairly by their parents – in other words, by the exact people who taught them the concept of fairness in the first place!


And yet, again, the parents always will, at times, fail at that fairness.


I’m lucky.  I haven’t had this problem since I was a little puppy in my litter, when my mother treated us all pretty much exactly the same.  Handsome, who kind of acts like my father most of the time, doesn’t have any other dogs besides me, so I don’t have that competition.  But I see other dogs all the time who live with it.  Their owners pet one more, or feed one more, or say hello to one with more excitement in their voice – and it just hurts!


But all I’ve said is about what already is, not how to change it.  And you want a change!  So what can you do?


Well, first, of course, you can bring it up to your parents.  Most likely, they’ll tell you that they’re treating you and your sister both the same (and most likely they’ll really believe it), but if you bring a list of examples of ways they are treating you differently, they will likely realize where you’re right.


Then second, a really good strategy is to ask them what you can do to make the treatment more equal.  Maybe they’re treating her better because she’s showing better manners, or doing better in school, or just treating them better.  And if so, maybe that’s something you could change a bit.


But there’s another strategy, one that is equally valid and important.  In fact, I’d argue that when you become an adult, it’s absolutely necessary for everyone.  And that’s to just accept it.  Because when we’re adults, there are ALWAYS going to be things that people love and don’t love about us.  And even those who love us the most will at times prefer some things about someone else, and even treat that other person (or dog) a little better.  Handsome loves me more than anything in the world, but sometimes he gives someone else a little more attention and affection than he gives me.  And I have to realize that that doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with him, or me, but just that that someone means something special to him at that moment.  It’s not “fair,” in the way I might normally think of it, but he has earned my trust so many times that I know he’ll always treat me with care and love and concern, no matter how he’s treating someone else at that moment.  (And besides, whenever a guest comes to our house, I always give all my attention to them and ignore Handsome completely!  In other words, I’m not quite so “fair” either!).


Bella, I’m not saying you need to be happy about being treated unfairly.  You have every right and reason to talk about it with your parents and ask them to change their treatment.  But it’s also really important that you find ways to be happy even if they’re imperfect.  Because the older you get, the more imperfections you’ll find in your parents, your friends, and those you love.


And even, as much as it pains me to say it, in dogs!




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