Children can be very jealous of each other when it comes to gaining favor and attention from their parents. If you’re as old as I am you’ll remember the Smothers Brothers, a comedy act with two brothers and one who always said, “Mom loved you best.” In truth, favoritism can destroy sibling bonds.
This was something I set out to avoid from the very start. Prophet Muhammad (S) said, “Fear Allah and treat your children equally.” (Bukhari) This was one of my parenting goals as soon as my second son was born.
One way to treat them equally is to be equal in gift-giving. When I buy my kids presents for Eid, I always set a certain amount that I’m planning to spend. Then I make sure I stay within that amount for each child. When they were younger one may have wanted a skateboard and another may have wanted a board game, but if the skateboard and the board game weren’t of equal cost then I added something else. (I’ll pass on more of my Eid gift money-saving tricks later, insha Allah.)
Things are a bit different now. Only the youngest three still receive gifts–and I am still careful to make them come out equally, whether the gifts are CDs or a webcam. But our fourth wants cash instead, so he receives that instead of the gifts, but at the same value. And our two oldest are independent now and don’t really want Eid presents. I buy a little something for our second son and try to make the rest up to him here and there, and our oldest gets something whenever I can get a package overseas (though the grandkids get more than he does).
Equality is also important when it comes to time. When I had all of my kids at home I often took one out with me shopping on the weekend. That one received a special treat, usually candy, for helping me with the groceries. And we talked in the car as I drove from store to store. I’ve read that talking in the car is an especially good way to communicate with teenagers, and my experience backs that up. Face to face can be too confrontational, but talking in the car is less threatening and more relaxed. My kids took turns going with me to the store so they each had a special time.
Fathers should play an important role here too. As much as we try, we mothers can’t possibly do everything. But fathers can spend time with the older kids while we’re taking care of the younger ones. It’s another way to make sure that no one is ever overlooked even in a large family.
I seriously do not have a favorite child. At one moment or another one may have my special gratitude, and there are times when one is “in the dog house,” but both praise and blame shift regularly and always have. Each one of my boys has a special talent, a special flavor that he brings to my life. And I really do love them all.