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.
  • 17 comments
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  • 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. :-)

  • Civilly

    Civilly

    April 6th, 2020 at 8:08 PM

    I’m sorry that you feel neglected in a sense. You are still trying to educate yourself, to make it in this world! Congratulations to your dedication and hard work! It’s also ok to ask for financial help. If you have received a scholarship (as you say you are smart ) or other money’s, they may not see you as needing financial support. Regardless, you still need an income while going to school, asking your parents for a little help is something they might not know you need.
    As for feeling like a ghost at family gatherings, perhaps not visiting for awhile, may be good for YOU. Take care of yourself, by making boundaries with people that seem to disregard your feelings. This isn’t about an eye for an eye, but to heal and find who you are without your parents.

  • sienna

    sienna

    April 7th, 2020 at 6:34 PM

    I understand how it feels. I am actually the youngest but, my older sister has a disability and gets far more attention. she acts really rude to me and the rest of my family, and has really bad behavior and grades, but my parents still care a lot more about her. nothing i do is ever important. my sister (who is a teenager) throws really big tantrums and even tried to punch me but got in no trouble. i showed up not even five minutes late coming home one day, and i was grounded for a week. i’m really tired of this unfair treatment but i have had to learn to deal with.

  • Civilly

    Civilly

    April 8th, 2020 at 1:30 PM

    I’m sorry that your parents show your siblings far more attention than you. I agree this can feel very lonely. It appears your parents show favouritism to make up for their shortfalls, or perhaps they feel guilty that your sibling to has a disability, perhaps they blame themselves. As for your other sister, her being at home, almost guarantees she is treated the same as your other sister, she is given a lot of freedom , and perhaps that’s another way your aren’t cope to keep the peace, so to speak. I am not saying your parents parenting skills deserve gold medal, but they are coping with a situation they may not know how to handle, and it may have gotten worse as time progressed, and they may not have the tools to back the broken truck up. So they continue to make up for it, by allowing your siblings to to get away with poor and entitled behaviour.
    Again I am not saying this is ok, but this may be the way your parents cope. Sad but perhaps true.
    It does seem, however, your sister with the disability, seems to know she can use her disability, perhaps to get what she wants, and you see her for what she is, just another person. Perhaps she doesn’t like the fact that you don’t acquiesce to her manipulations, thus lashing out at you physically. This is the time to tell her, that her behaviour is inappropriate, and walk away. The only way she will learn to respect you and your space is to see and hear her own behaviour rebound back to her. As the saying goes, ‘ Silence is bliss’. As for your other sister, it seems, she seeks attention in any manner. Perhaps she too, notices some degree of emotional neglect due to your parents favouritism of your disabled sister. Perhaps she feels some slight jealousy, because you get to get away, by being at college. She isn’t mature enough, to recognize anything just yet. Again her attitude towards you, is still inappropriate, and you have the right to let her know your boundaries.

  • An

    An

    January 6th, 2019 at 1:11 PM

    Dear Unfavorite,
    Life is inherently unfair. It seems odd that your parents wouldn’t at least bring some fairness their own family unit. That’s on them. Whatever their reasoning is, it isn’t grounded in fairness. Is it your fault that they we’re teenage parents? Does that diminish your needs you have as a person (feeling your are treated fairly) or a as their daughter (acknowlegdement that they are the parents and you are not responsible for their family unit or the consequences of their life choices – even as an adult – including having double standards) ? As far as you not visiting them weekend being petty: perhaps it’s you introducing some fairness towards yourself. I wouldn’t call that petty, just a well deserved chance to recharge yourself instead of being a ghost or getting biting your tongue around your family. Just see how it works for you. Best of luck

  • Lindzic

    Lindzic

    November 4th, 2019 at 11:21 PM

    Dear Unfavourite
    I share similarities with you. It’s really heartbreaking to be the less favourite child.
    It got very bad to some point that I started becoming suicidal when I was nineteen (about 12 years ago). After surviving a suicide attempt of swallowing a bottle of pills. I realised that I should say “No” to suicide – My life is precious and I’m special to me.

    But as I grew older I have learned to cope with being “less favourite” by adopting the following strategies : I stopped feeling sorry for myself, self-pitty worsened the situation; Reduced the many chores I do to spend time on things that are very important to me; I help kids with homework both voluntarily and as a side hustle; I watch motivational movies, videos and listen to inspirational music from different genres. I jog and eat healthier; practise positive thinking affirmations; I also read advice columns from magazines for ideas because I dont afford a reputable therapist right now and ‘unlearning’ being envious towards my sister, have also helped me a lot.

    So, ‘Unfavourite’ start by being your very own favourite person in the world – that doesnt make you selfish. Is there an uncle or aunt who can help you? Enter competitions – they’ve helped me! I received a stationery voucher once and a shopping voucher for running shoes.Make a playlist of your favourite songs including inspirational songs like “Dont worry be happy”, I listen to that song when I’m very down like at least ten times until I feel better. Have a workout routine, I feel much better after jogging. Avoid telling every detail of your problem to anyone except your therapist or close friend. Learn from my mistake – I told my ex about it and it didnt help. He stopped calling me for a while. Maybe I sounded like a helpless, nagging old woman!
    However, try one more time, I know its hard I can relate, to ask for financial support from your parents and dont mention your sisters in your request. If they refuse, keep seeking ways to earn income like tutoring. Do also go for therapy – it will help!

    Good luck to you Unfavourite!

  • Annonymous

    Annonymous

    November 21st, 2019 at 11:20 AM

    Of course I wouldn’t be writing this if I too had not had to endure the same misery of being the least favourite. Just wanted to leave a message about not going home – when I was 18 Ieft home to train as a nurse in a nearby city. Back then, we could live in. I lived in and used to go home in my days off where I also became a ghost. Then I decided that instead of going “home” I would stay and explore my new City and create my own home. The experience was so liberating that I barely went home again. I was on control of my life. I could dump anyone who made me feel bad about myself and do the things that made me happy. I could explore my own identity and eat chocolate cake for breakfast. I could have my friends round, listen to my favourite music and reach out to others I created my alternative family of friends and associates. I even stayed put during the fortnight holidays we got as student nurses. I became me, and when I did go home, it was on my terms. I never stayed long and made sure I left when they were still pleased to see me – because when the scapegoat is not there, they have to look at themselves and the family dynamic completely changes. Someone else has to become the least favourite. Believe me you are not being petty, you are taking control of your life.

  • Unfavourite

    Unfavourite

    January 13th, 2020 at 2:50 AM

    I can relate to this so much, my sister is 10 years old and is getting treated like a queen. My mother obviously has a favourite although like most parents she denies it. My sister and I always get into petty little fights. I always argue with her causing my mother to have another reason to make my sister her favourite. I take all my anger out on her because I thought it was her fault.It is not. she plays with my mind knowing she is the favourite child by teasing me, mocking me and getting me riled up and then me loosing my temper and shouting little word like “Shut up” my mother then gets angry at me not knowing the situation. when I finally get to explain it, after 10 minutes I’ve waited so mom can cool down, my younger sibling comes in. Once again she gets me angry and I loose my temper. She was telling me how im just a show off, ugly or worthless and little me was obviously angry. It was wrong of me but I pushed her out of my face. She then acts like I threw her across the room with a smile then starts crying. mom comes in with rage in her eyes telling me things like “how could you do this to my little baby” and I would have to go to my room again. every time we get into arguments she always yells “STOP” or “OW” when I haven’t touched her knowing mom would hear it. Things have got better, I mean my sister does have a sickness (nothing serious don’t worry) and she claims “she needs more love and care than you” because of that sickness. Being the older child is very tough, it seemed great when I was a little kid..until my sibling. I love my little sister but is SO unfair to be the eldest.

  • Annonymous

    Annonymous

    January 18th, 2020 at 3:51 AM

    So sorry you are having to go through all of that. Just to let you know that you are not alone. I too had a younger sister who behaved in exactly the same way. I recall the frustration and hurt at the injustice of it all, just like you are doing now. The pain is indescribable. I learned to get the better of her – when she started shouting things like OW – I would reply really loudly with – “where am I touching you?” which she could not answer. The truth is, she will always have your mother’s support, because that is how their relationship works. The best way is to rise above it. Do not engage with her or your mother. I expect she knows how to press your buttons to antagonise you. Find your mental “happy place” and go there. When her or your mother are getting worked up, imagine them in a silly situation , like wearing a tutu on the loo, to help maintain your confidence (but try not to snigger!) Try to find things outside the family to keep you going. Do you have close friends you can visit, or a hobby you can follow to take you out of your sister’s way? When people are trying to pick a fight with you, just say over and over again “I am not to argue with you” and repeat it over and over again. It is very effective.
    It might be painful now, but you will learn to be a better adjusted stronger person from your experiences. You will also have a very strong sense of justice which you will be able to use positively. My experiences made me a damn good defence lawyer. Remember, no one has the right to make you feel like you do and that you have power and control. Just be the stronger person in the situation. Hope all goes well

  • Annonymous

    Annonymous

    January 18th, 2020 at 4:56 AM

    Further to my last comment, where I meant to advise you say “I am not going to argue with you”. They will most likely try to antagonise you into responding emotionally, because you are being the stronger person, but stick to your guns and repeat the phrase over and over again, like a stuck recording without raising your voice. They can only challenge you for so long if there is nothing for them to respond to to continue the fight. I notice your age. Please remember that you can contact childline on 0800 1111 where there are message boards and I think they may have live interactive support. If you find you cannot cope without getting upset in front of them, remove yourself from the situation and contact an organisation like childline to talk through it.
    My son is a keen follower of the “diary of a whimpy Kid” series. The hero of the stories, Greg has a little brother called Manny who is also his mother’s favourite and behaves in very similar ways to your sister by playing Greg off against their Mum – this is the behaviour of babies in the family everywhere you go. Try to laugh at it and see it for what it is – typical babyish behaviour and remember that you are the grown up in the situation, which is how Greg copes. Oh – and everyone needs the same love and care, just in different ways. it also sounds like your sister may be jealous of you. Perhaps you have some very positive qualities that you do not recognise. if she calls you ugly, she may be intimidated by your good looks. Where she says you are a “show off” it may be that she has noticed you are smarter, more popular and more confident than she is. Other siblings are very alert to the injustices dealt out to siblings and whilst they exploit them to their advantage, are often fearful of doing anything that may make them the least favourite child and subject to the same treatment by their parents. My younger sister certainly was and became one of my biggest supporters as an adult. Whilst she gained from my parent’s attitude to me, has clearly been upset by it on my behalf and has endeavoured not to bring her own children up in the same way. As I say – life will improve. You may have to look outside your family for your strength and the affirmation you need.

  • Brooklyn

    Brooklyn

    February 20th, 2020 at 3:08 PM

    I am the least favorite

  • Anonymous

    Anonymous

    August 1st, 2020 at 1:50 PM

    the fact that you said “being the oldest is SO unfair” is making me super mad. You say it like that’s always the case. You say it like there are no younger siblings being mistreated! >:(

  • Anonymous

    Anonymous

    August 1st, 2020 at 1:55 PM

    Sorry, that sounded a bit rude. But the fact that everyone here is just hating on younger siblings makes me really upset. I visited this page in the hope to find someone, maybe just one person to help cope with being unloved. Instead I come here to find all younger siblings being antagonized! I am a younger sibling, and my parents love my older brother more for being the “more hardworking” one. Nobody here seems to understand that younger siblings can also be the unfavorite one. >:(

  • Anonymous

    Anonymous

    September 14th, 2020 at 10:52 PM

    I have a little sister who is always *the sand of my eyes*. And I hate my parents because they just believe whatever that girl tells them, and creates a fuss about eveeything she can. Like I was just sitting beside her, she snatched away my phone and I told her to give it back to me, she would start crying that I had beated her. Then both of the parents would come running, one hugging that girl and the other trying to chew at me. This happened all the time, and they wouldn’t believe a word even if I rip out my guts of for the evidence.Now I am looking for work for my own money. The only to make them listen to me I think if you grow up, become rich and have degrees behind your name, then they might listen to you. You know, when they are old and can’t earn, they will always look up to you for the money. I don’t believe in parental love and blah blah. I think sometime that totally cutting off ties from them might help, or being the most aggressive of the family. I would just ignore my parents and never listen anyting from them

  • Annonymous

    Annonymous

    September 15th, 2020 at 9:50 AM

    I don’t want you to think that people are only hitting on younger siblings. I am both an older and a younger sibling. I had similar difficulties with my older sister who was supposed to be the genius of the family too. My older sister was the firm favourite of both parents. My younger was the big favourite of my mother. My brother was not a favourite but had a role as the boy. Your position in the family does make some difference to how you are treated – there was a theory in the 1950’s that parents only properly bond with their firstborn. However, in the end, there are a whole host of reasons for why you might be the unfavourite. None of which are actually to do with you. It is usually because you are slightly different to the rest of them and they feel threatened in some way. Maybe something good about you reminds them of their weaknesses. You might feel like you were adopted and don’t really belong – I know I did.

  • Annonymous

    Annonymous

    September 15th, 2020 at 10:02 AM

    Don’t tear your guts out trying to persuade them of anything. It won’t work because they won’t listen. I stopped trying after a particularly unpleasant bullying session from my mother and older sister who were accusing me of goodness knows what, it was so long ago. They tried to shut a door in my face so they wouldn’t have to listen to me. I was pushing against it and begging to be heard. Then I felt someone come behind me and lift me up. It was my brother and when I said that I was trying to make them listen, he said “you will never make them do that. They don’t want to” and then put me on my bed ,where I cried for ages. afterwards, I took his words to heart and never gave them the satisfaction of doing it again. I just used to say “that’s right” or “I’m not going to argue with you”. It gave me the power because I wasn’t giving them something they wanted – a fight. I did go on to be the most successful member of my family. First a nurse and then a lawyer. My parents are old and vulnerable. Guess which child is the one supporting them. Yep. And I can see how uncomfortable it often makes them feel because it is not one of their favourites who is there for them.

  • Zaytrick

    Zaytrick

    September 25th, 2020 at 9:33 AM

    I can vey much relate to that, I am now 14 going on 15 and my parents have three other kids I am 3 years and a few month older than one 8 years older than the another and 12 years olderthan the last, and they get everything they want. My mother will say to my yonger brother you are grounded tomarow and tomarow roles around and he’s not grounded. They get all the atetion in the house and I find my self doing desprate things to get attintion. So I can relate to everyone that is the least favorite.

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