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What’s Up with My Parents Giving My Sisters Special Treatment?

Dear GoodTherapy.org,

Thank you in advance for answering my question. When I was a kid, my parents always seemed to favor my two sisters over me. They showered them with attention, gave them lots of love, all the gifts they could want. I love my sisters and don't resent them at all, but now I'm 22 (female) and the behavior of my parents hasn't really changed. My sisters are now 19 and 21. This Christmas they each got vacations to Chile as their gifts; I got a few clothing items. I have never really brought this up to my parents but I do feel some resentment toward them for giving my sisters what feels like special treatment. My sisters are prettier than me, did better in school, have nice boyfriends, and I've never had one. I feel like I need my parents' support more than my sisters do. I am not really sure if my parents just look at me as the "big sis" who doesn't need what the younger sisters get, or if I'm just reading things in here. But I know it bothers me. What, if anything, should I do? -- Snubbed Sis

Dear Snubbed Sis,

Thank you so much for writing. Family relationships can be so complicated, and often family members have little idea about how they are impacting others in the family. It is not unusual for oldest children to feel like they get the short end of the stick and that younger siblings get “babied” or spoiled. Sometimes parents see the oldest as more independent and needing less than the younger children. It could be possible that your parents have no idea that their actions have made you feel less special.

It is wonderful that you have not allowed your feelings to turn into resentment of your sisters. It sounds, though, as if you are in danger of letting your feelings of resentment toward your parents impact your relationship with them. You say that you really need their support. Do they know this? Have you told them what you need?

There seems to be a few issues to talk with them about—and you may want to choose which ones to address. You have a perception that your sisters have been favored since childhood. Whether or not that’s what happened in your parents’ eyes, it’s what you experienced. That can be painful, and may be impacting how you relate to your parents. It can be very challenging to address vague feelings, but you have a current example that might help you start a conversation with them.

How do you think your parents would respond to an observation? What would it be like if you told them that this past Christmas, it seemed as if the types of gifts that your sisters received were quite different than the gifts you received, and you wanted to talk about that difference and what it meant to you? Through that conversation, you might be able to share that you are hurting and that you’ve long felt as if your sisters received special treatment.

I would recommend focusing on your feelings and using “I” statements as much as possible. (For example: “I sometimes felt that I wasn’t as special to you as they were, and that really hurt.”) You can’t control how your parents respond, and it is possible that they might get defensive or dismiss what you are trying to say. But if you try to express what you’ve been feeling, without accusing or blaming, you may have the opportunity to have a really important conversation. At the very least, you can express your feelings so that your silent resentment and hurt don’t continue to grow.

If you need more help working through your feelings, or thinking about how to talk with your parents about this, you may want to consider talking with a therapist in your area.

Best of luck!

  • Nicole March 1st, 2013 at 10:59 PM #1

    I was tempted to say its natural and that you are reading too much into it all.but the vacation thing does put a rest to it.There is definitely some sort of differentiation going on here and considering one of your sisters is just a year younger than you the difference should not exist.

    Talk to them as a mature adult and see what they have to tell you about all this.It will not be the easiest discussion you have ever had but it will be worth it.All the best.

  • Maxi March 2nd, 2013 at 9:30 AM #2

    So hard to process and understand when parents play favorites! I am kind of like you, grew up wondering what in the world I was doing wrong to not get the favored child status like some of the other siblings did. It took me a very long time to realize that there was nothing that I could do about it and that if I wanted to move on with life then I had to do just that and move on/. So I did. Was it hard? Yes and it hurt to go through a big part of my formative years feeling different and not special. But I see now that this was just my parents and I have made the decisions to not let them hurt me anymore with that behavior.

  • Brent collins March 2nd, 2013 at 10:58 AM #3

    Honestly, I think that all parents like it or not in some way have a favorite child. It is just that in your case it only seems even more glaringly obvious. That must really hurt.

  • Mike B March 3rd, 2013 at 8:29 AM #4

    I know that there are families out there who do this kind of stuff and these are the people who make me seriously question why have children if you are going to glorify one over another. I get it that maybe it is easier to love one that you think that you have more in common with but that doesn’t make it right. And for parents to openly flaunt this, I mean, how can clothes even begin to compare with a trip to South America? This is just stunning to me, and for you to say that you have no resentment, you are better than I would be because it sounds like you are being treated like poor Cinderella by the evil step sisters and step mother. What makes it worse is that I am guessing that these people are all biologically related to you!

  • phil March 3rd, 2013 at 11:47 PM #5

    my advice would be – concentrate less on what your sisters are getting and concentrate more on your relationship with your parents.because as you will discover later in life – that is more important than any gift or trip.gifts do not equate to affection and if you are genuinely looking to find out the reason,look to see if your relationship with your parents needs some working on.that may hold the answer to your plight!

  • nathan March 4th, 2013 at 3:46 AM #6

    This might be your sign that it is time to sever those ties and move on.

    I know that this is family and you are young and the thought of leaving them behind would have to be scary. But maybe these are not the best people for you to have in your life. It sounds as if they rarely offer you anything in the vein of positive in your life and cause you a whole lot of grief and anguish. I understand that you need people in your life to support you, but it sounds like this is not the support that you need to be looking for.

  • hannah March 4th, 2013 at 11:31 PM #7

    you know what, I’ve been through this in my own growing up years. parents were a million times better to my siblings than to me. and it certainly didn’t feel good. growing up I realized that none of it matters much. what matters is how I feel about myself. because let’s be honest, nobody is going to be around or in your shoes when you face the ups and downs of life, you are your only companion. so it’s much better to look for and find peace within yourself than to expect from others. expectations only bring disappointment, effort brings fruit, so put in the effort and reap the fruits of a peaceful you than to look for happiness on the outside or rough someone else.

  • raul March 5th, 2013 at 11:47 PM #8

    do you love your dad more or your mom? think about it deep and you will have a favorite. it is no different for them with children. it does not mean you are worthless. just accept it and move on, you do not need that trip anyway, there are better things to do in life.

  • Suzanne July 9th, 2013 at 7:07 AM #9

    Let me tell you, I have the EXACT same thing going on with my family. My two sisters and I are all in our thirties, so I have a bit of perspective to offer you. My older sister (I’m in the middle) is undoubtedly favored by my parents, as are her kids. Despite the fact that I’ve grown to be more successful than she is, she’s still the apple of their eyes. It never ends, and even at this age I’m embarrassed to admit that I still cry about it from time to time. The best information I can offer you is this: I am more independent, self-reliant and have far more friends and relationships outside my family then my sister does. She married kind of a dud, and I’ve got a fantastic husband. I attribute all of these things to the way we were raised. Whenever I’m feeling down about the situation with my parents, I remind myself that in a million years, I would never prefer her life over my own. It still stings– every kid wants the approval of their parents, but you can’t control it and you need to find love and satisfaction elsewhere. In the long run, you’ll be better off.

  • Willie A September 22nd, 2013 at 2:08 PM #10

    I know exactly how you feel. My mom always favors my sister that is two years older than me. My mom EXPECTS me to praise my sister to the skies every day. She always says that I should be much more like her. I completely disagree. I think that I should be my own self. She always wants me to make better grades and literately BE my sister. She shouts at me whenever I get a B, and when my sister does, she cares for her so much. She always says that “it is OK, and you will be fine, and a B is good”. She always makes time for my sister, but cannot spare time for me. I always go to my room {the smallest} in the house, and cry. Every single day. Then, when I come back downstairs, they did not even realize that I was gone. I wonder if they would even feel bad if I was gone. She never gets affected when I am sad or even angry. When I addressed the issue, she told me to get over myself. My whole family is against me. I don’t know what to tell you because I do not know what to do myself. Sorry :(

  • Erin R September 23rd, 2013 at 5:53 PM #11

    Short response to Willie A, then longer one to the thread….

    To Willie A: First of all, good for you for sticking up for yourself and identifying how your mother is being. My mother used to say the exact same thing to me when I would say ANYTHING that she disagreed with. “Get over yourself” as in, don’t have a self that is different from the person I need you to be. It sounds like your mother is a very immature person, who is inflicting some of her own personal history on you. Do you have anyone outside of the family (or in the extended family, like an aunt or uncle) who you can talk to? That is not right and you have every right to feel totally upset, angry and resentful.

    To the thread:

    I don’t believe that anyone can advise anyone else about their family situation, but I just wanted to share in a more general way how I’ve dealt with parental favouritism in my own life (I’m 32 now).

    1) before I had begun to deal with my feelings, I inflicted my own favouritism on one of my two cats—(a strategy that I do not recommend…)

    2) I went to extensive therapy, and learned, first of all, how deeply and intensely angry, hurt, frustrated and disappointed I was in my family.

    3) During this time I have had to separate myself from my family. I felt a lot of guilt over this, and my family encouraged me to feel guilty. Ultimately I think that it has been the best thing I could have done for my health, and for the well being of my family as well, since I could not, and will not, be a part of the group anymore on terms that negate who I am. I think that playing a role just to satisfy other members of the group is never healthy for the group, although it may enable group members to continue their unhealthy ways.

    3a) One way that I kept from going crazy with guilt, anger and self-doubt was through having people outside my family – primarily my therapist – who listened to me and validated my feelings.

    At this point in time, I feel like I am better able to validate my own feelings. And, because of that, I have started to let my family back into my life. They are still as invalidating as ever, but it does not hurt quite so much, anymore (and when it does, I put distance between myself and them until I feel comfortable, i.e. am able to reconnect with myself).

    3b) This has taken a lot of work though. I certainly do not recommend just telling yourself to “get over” your feelings. When families are invalidating, they basically say that only their feelings (usually the parents’) matter – yours do not. And so, when you reclaim your feelings – the sovereignty of who you are – you reclaim the right to listen to yourself and validate how you feel about a particular situation above all (i.e. above what anyone else tells or wants you to feel or think). In other words, you reclaim your trust in yourself. It is only from a place of deep self-trust that a person can come to accept someone else who, being so much bigger and stronger than you as an adult when you were a child, never extended that same acceptance to you. In my experience, I am only able to do that, when I am able (and often I am not, and that is okay too), because I have first – for a quite extended period of time – said to them, and to myself, NO. I don’t accept this. I don’t accept you. Or this treatment (fact that you love and validate my brother and invalidate and undermine me, etc….)

    4) All of the above has meant doing a lot of my own work. This is the most important point, because ultimately, the only person who can help you get through really hard relationships to your family is you. And that’s a good thing, because if you can’t afford therapy, etc, you can always rely on one person: yourself. For me, what really has helped has been learning to meditate. In terms of books about meditation, I recommend especially Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche (a good introduction to his work is Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior). Also, Pema Chodron and Thich Nhat Hanh.

    Also, a great theoretical book on how families work family is R.D. Laing, The Politics of the Family.

  • Tapashya March 8th, 2014 at 9:07 AM #12

    I feel that my mother does nt love me and she loves my younger sis more….but she does so much for me and she cares a lot…..but I feel bad sometimes for little things and I always feel that what shes done is never enough as she does not love me 4 real

  • saj March 9th, 2014 at 6:44 AM #13

    Tapashya, it’s all about ur mind . Because u love ur sister more than ur mother, sameway u didn’t understand what ur, be a roll model 2 hEr.

  • diane miller May 2nd, 2014 at 10:05 PM #14

    I feel like my mom loves my two sisters better than me and I am the youngest she calls me a brat and butthole and is always telling me I need to lose weight and that really hurts. I am to the point of just moving out and not tell her where I go.

  • shy May 9th, 2014 at 3:34 PM #15

    My parents give everything I own to my 3 year old sister and they always say that because she is the baby of the family that I have to do everything for her sometimes I just feel like running away. My mom usually takes my side but my dad always takes my sister’s side since my dad is the dominant one in the family I have to do everything he says. Am I the only one with this problem? Everyone in my family think I’m a selfish simple minded girl which for my opinion. I’m not

  • an Asian belieber June 10th, 2014 at 7:11 AM #16

    I thought I’m the only one who faced this. My mom is a single mom and I stay with my mom. Maybe she bought me everything that I want but I can’t see the fairness. I always got scolded bc of just a little problem but my younger sister will never get scolded although its a big problem. I talked to her about how I don’t satisfy about this.but I always get the same answer. She always said that “what the heck are you talking about? She is your sister and she don’t have what you have when you are 5. You have to understand. Use your brain.” She is already in a high school rn but the same thing always happen. She is only 2 year younger than me. I need fairness. I really can’t stand with what’s happening all day.

  • Elle July 6th, 2014 at 12:29 AM #17

    So I am the older sister and my younger sister is 3 years younger than me. I’m a senior in high school and I could bring home a C and get yelled at, where if my sister brings home an F all she gets is a tisk tisk.. It’s not really fair my sister can whine and through a fit and she gets what she wants but I could ask for something for a year and still not get it till almost 2 years later… She gets everything done first, and I sit back and have to wait.. You would think they would want to make my last year at home at least kind of good for me, but it doesn’t matter. I just wish I knew how to put up with it for another year.

  • Alyssa July 8th, 2014 at 6:09 AM #18

    I have an issue like this, my brother, me and our cousin always go to my grandma’s house. I know she loves us all, but… Like she watches us at my cousins house mostly so my bro plays video games with him on my cousins xbox. My bro is really immature and pretty much a cry baby. And I think my gma misses when we were babies and that’s why she favors my bro. My cousin is more of a tough boy. My bro super bossy and whenever my cousin does anything that’s not what my bro wants, he is all mad and tattles to my gma. If she tries to side with my cousin he starts to cry. So then she hugs him and comforts him and tells my cousin to do what my bro wants. That happens all the time so my cousin complained to his mom (my aunt). She specifically told my gma that the xbox is my cousins and that he doesn’t have to be my bro’s little slave. But still, it happens again and again. I’ve repeatedly gotten so angry about it I snap. I yell at my grandma saying that this is not fair and my cousin deserves fair treatment and she tries to defend herself but I keep yelling then storm off into the garage or back yard to get away.

  • dahlia July 9th, 2014 at 8:27 AM #19

    I have a older sister that if she is sick,my parents. Help her out. She wanted a house, she got a house. When i m sick take medicines u will be better. I feel like this when are my parents going to realize i need love and attention to. I love my parents but if they. Have one favorite they should have one kid… i feel they shouldn t had kids now my parents are divorced and so the family spilt up.

  • marnus July 10th, 2014 at 11:11 PM #20

    I got the same problem if it is her birthday she will get more love and presents and when it is my birthday my dad will send me yo my grandparents.Good luck with your problem

  • Mary July 19th, 2014 at 6:58 AM #21

    It’s sad and seems the scars never heal. The pain is always there. My parents favorite my sis and bro over me throughout my life and they look at me as a lesser person. My sis, who is very wealty, sent me inside a big box, a damaged gift bag and 3 trail sizes of tea containers. No card. No wrapping. That was my birthday gift. Her living room is adorned with art work that I’ve made for her and large photographs that I’ve taken. I’ve put the time, energy and effort in showing her love and respect. After today, I know that it’s clear that’s she does not want to spend the time, energy or effort on me. I will no longer do the same

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