How Do I Cope with Being the Least Favorite Child?

Dear GoodTherapy.org,

My parents have three children, and I’m the least favorite. They’ve never said it in those exact words, but it’s obvious in the way they act. My two younger sisters are spoiled rotten. They don’t do half the chores I did at their ages. My parents pay for any clothes or gadgets they ask for. One of them is getting a car for her next birthday. Meanwhile, I’m working part time in between college classes just to afford textbooks.

Whenever I bring up the difference in treatment, my parents get really defensive. They argue they were just teenagers when they had me, so they couldn’t afford nice things like they can today. But if they have money now, shouldn’t they split it evenly between their kids? I mean, I know at 19 I’m technically an adult, but all my friends’ parents at least try to pitch in with college expenses. Mine are the only ones who don’t pay anything.

It’s not just money, either. I visit home every other weekend, but my parents basically ignore me. Whenever we have company over, my parents will brag on and on about my sisters, but I’m always mentioned as an afterthought. I feel like a ghost in my own house.

I feel like I shouldn’t care this much. I’m an adult, so I shouldn’t be chasing after my parents’ approval. But I can’t stop obsessing about it. I’ll literally lie awake at night, just being angry. Sometimes I’ll find myself snapping at my sisters, even though they’re just kids and it’s not their fault for being the favorites.

Is there a way I can get my parents to see how unfair this all is? I sort of want to stop visiting home, just to see how they’d react. Is that petty? Should I just accept that I’m the least favorite kid and move on? —The Unfavorite

Submit Your Own Question to a Therapist

Dear Unfavorite,

Thank you for writing. Perhaps no relationships are as complicated as family relationships. It’s not unusual for oldest children to feel like they get the short end of the stick while their younger siblings get spoiled.

Often, as the family dynamics change, there are some very real differences in what parents are able to offer their children. If your parents were teenagers when you were born, it is likely you had a starkly different childhood than your siblings. Is it fair? No. Rarely are family dynamics fair. Generally, most parents try to meet the needs of their children that they are able to meet. There may have been needs of yours they were not able to meet that they can meet now for your sisters.

It seems, though, that bringing these disparities to your parents’ attention is triggering their defenses rather than empathy for you. It could be your observations are heard as a criticism of your childhood rather than as a wish that things could be more equitable now. While there may be many reasons your family dynamics are what they are, none of this diminishes the pain you feel.

There are likely some core messages you are getting from your family experiences that are creating significant distress. Working with a therapist may help you reframe your experiences in a way that brings you peace.

It may be helpful to think about what you want in terms of a relationship with your parents independent of what your sisters are experiencing. If you would like financial support with schooling, perhaps you could ask for it—not because your sisters have so much more than you did, but because it would be helpful to you. If you keep your sisters and any comparisons to them out of the picture, you might be able to focus on your relationship with your parents and reduce the defensiveness you’ve experienced from them.

You may also want to work with a licensed professional to explore why their approval is as important to you as it seems to be. There are likely some core messages you are getting from your family experiences that are creating significant distress. Working with a therapist may help you reframe your experiences in a way that brings you peace.

Whatever path you follow, if you focus on how unfair things are, you may only build resentment that creates a barrier between you and all members of your family. If you want to have healthy relationships with your parents and your sisters, finding ways to remove resentment will be essential.

Best of luck,

Erika Myers, MS, MEd, LPC, NCC

Erika Myers
Erika Myers, MS, MEd, LPC, NCC is a licensed psychotherapist and former educator specializing in working with families in transition (often due to separation or divorce) as well as individuals seeking support with relationship issues, parenting, depression, anxiety, grief/loss/bereavement, and managing major life changes. Although her theoretical orientation is eclectic, she most frequently uses a person-centered, strengths-based approach and cognitive behavioral therapy in her practice.
  • 1 comment
  • Leave a Comment
  • Rae

    Rae

    July 2nd, 2018 at 10:01 AM

    Hello The Unfavorite,
    I can very much relate to your questions. I am the oldest with two younger brothers. I am 4 1/2 years older then B, and 15 years older then J. I am now 34. With J, I believe things were different because there was such an age difference. Neither of my parents were the nurturing type, and I took on that role for J. So while we are close, he is extremely smart and now in college, studying to be an engineer and possibly doctor. J was smart and popular in high school. I struggled in school until going to college, where I was studying something I liked. Growing up I struggled with a lot of depression and anxiety. I didn’t do well in school, and my parents had no understanding of where I was coming from. B also struggled in school, but for some reason it still seemed like he was above me. Now at 34, This is still definitely the situation. I still struggle with my mental health, and my parents still don’t try to understand.

    Now I know this sounds discouraging. Our family dynamics are also dysfunctional and hopefully, your family dynamics are different. I would agree with the blog answer to your question, and look into seeing a therapist, just to understand more about yourself. And I would also agree in that you should consider in approaching your parents about helping you with finances. Write down what you want to say first. Make points at the things you are doing that are positive, i.e working part time while attending school. Explain how hard it is to do both and explain that you are asking for help with expenses for school. And I also agree to just talk about your single situation, leaving out what they have done for your sisters, etc. This is about YOU!
    And I’m not a therapist, so this is only from personal experience, that I’ve written from.
    And I’d love to hear the outcome if you feel like keeping us updated. :-)

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of GoodTherapy.org's Terms and Conditions of Use.

* Indicates required field.

 

Advanced Search

Search Our Blog

   
GoodTherapy.org is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, or therapy. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding any mental health symptom or medical condition. Never disregard professional psychological or medical advice nor delay in seeking professional advice or treatment because of something you have read on GoodTherapy.org.