Doting Mothers Cause Depressed Kids, Once Grown?

Perceived favoritism on the part of a mother can cause long-term psychological effects on all her children well into adulthood, according to new research. Gerontologist Karl Pillemer from Cornell University looked at 275 mothers and their 671 adult children and found that in families with a perceived sense of favoritism, children were more likely to exhibit depressive symptoms as adults. Interesting, this applied to both the favored children and non-favored children. The study found that it’s not the type of treatment each child receives that matters so much as being raised in an environment where a sense of unequal treatment is present.

© Copyright 2010 by By John Smith. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

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  • Amy

    June 26th, 2010 at 10:51 AM

    Has this issue been addressed in regards to only children?

  • Tammi

    June 26th, 2010 at 12:21 PM

    My mother was very clear on who was favorite in our house. She made no attempt to hide that my oldest sister, who was smart and beautiful, would always be the belle of the ball. The rest of us were average as far as she was concerned and not worth much of her time. It bothers me to this day.

  • Darrel

    June 26th, 2010 at 2:22 PM

    In my experience the favorite feels pressure too. My father had great expectations of me following in his footsteps and becoming a pharmacist. I listened to that all my life, even before I started school. I was going to grow up to be just like Daddy and we’d work together in the family business. He wasn’t interested in my sisters doing it, just me. I didn’t want to and studied interior design instead. My father was very angry and at one point refused to pay for my education if I did. I said I’d work my way through college myself then. He relented and funded it, although he never let me forget how much I disappointed him. It’s tough being the favorite. I often wished it wasn’t me.

  • Hope

    June 26th, 2010 at 6:08 PM

    I am very very careful about not showing favoritism to my children. They all know they are loved and respected in this family for their own individual strengths. Sure, some are better at some things than others but that’s life! There will always be someone better than you at something, so it’s pointless to fret about that. We get them to focus on their own capabilities and be proud of their siblings when they excel at something. We’re a team.

  • Claire

    June 26th, 2010 at 9:04 PM

    Tammi, my heart goes out to you. I’m sorry you had to go through that through no fault of your own. I’m a mom and I would never have made one of my children feel extra special and alienated the rest. That’s cruel.

  • Jamie

    June 27th, 2010 at 8:40 AM

    To blame all of this on mothers is simply not right. Where are the fathers in this blame game orr do they play no family role at all? I am not trying to make a mountain out of a mole hill but I have to admit that I am kind of tired of seeing so many things that come up later in life blamed on the mothering that kids received. When is it just going to be enough that people simply say they had a bad childhood and then move on and get over it? Just put your big girl (or boy) pants on and get over it!!

  • Martha

    June 27th, 2010 at 12:49 PM

    I agree in part, Jamie. It takes two to make a baby. Unfortunately there are too many absent fathers that took no interest in being involved with the raising of their children from the start. Nowadays many kids are brought up by single moms that do a valiant job keeping it all together. Sometimes it’s also because of divorce. Either way, it’s unfair to lay all the blame at the mom’s door.

  • Cary

    June 27th, 2010 at 2:22 PM

    Kids see favoritism too when it’s not there! I had a funny conversation with my own brothers and sisters (we’re a family of six) about who was the favorite and not one of us could agree on who it was! One brother got two votes and that was the closest we came. It’ll be different depending on your perspective and your age back then, I guarantee you.

  • victor

    June 27th, 2010 at 3:25 PM

    hmm…this is quite interesting.I thought only the kids who are biased against grow up with problems…this really exhibits that an unideal atmosphere not only affects those at the receiving end of the bias but also those that benefit from it!

  • Amos

    June 27th, 2010 at 3:31 PM

    Neither of my parents favored any of us. I had a school friend who was doted upon by his mother. She entertained his every whim and bragged about him all the time. You never heard her talk about his sister. He was very clever and good looking, it’s true. I used to be jealous of that until we grew up and I saw what an arrogant, self-centered man he became. Looking back I’m grateful for the lack of favoritism.

  • Austin

    June 28th, 2010 at 4:34 AM

    My mama always played favorites- luckily I was the favorite. When I was a kid I did not see anhything wrong with that. But now I know how much it hurt my brothers and that is hard for me to deal with as an adult. I hope that this does not affect how they treat my nieces and nephews now because that would be a real shame.

  • Maggie

    June 28th, 2010 at 10:56 AM

    Placing blame when there is no clear cut answer is dangerous. Just because this appears that it could be the case how do you know that this one specific thing is what causes depression? How do you know that there are not other factors which seriously influence the development of depression in someone? I think that this is an awfully dangerous statement to be putting out there if in case it turns out to not be the full truth of the situation.

  • Joan

    June 28th, 2010 at 2:04 PM

    its amazing how such a seemingly-small thing that is not ideal can have such a big impact in a person’s life…more reason for parents to treat all their kids equally,I’d say…

  • Georgia

    June 29th, 2010 at 4:28 AM

    My mom played favorites with us, but it did not make any of us depressed, just competitive.

  • Ellen Kimball

    June 30th, 2010 at 5:17 AM

    I’m a 71 year old born an only child who had two parents with many positive attributes, as well as significant flaws. I struggle with clinical depression since age 19, but have the support of one of the original tricyclic anti-depression drugs. Also, I find that cognitive behavior therapy has helped me at various times in my life. This book helped me understand my nuclear family and the issues: Parenting an Only Child: The Joys and Challenges of Raising Your One and Only

    I have one singleton grandchild age 21 as well as four others to whom we are close. Trying to learn as much as possible so we won’t be accused of not treating grandchildren equally. Cordially, Ellen Kimball Portland, OREGON

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