What to Do if You Like One Multiple More Than Another

A parent holding twins

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It may be unspoken, but sometimes, parents of multiples do have a favorite child. Of course, this doesn't mean that they don't love each of their children, but rather that they may feel more bonded to one over another.

For decades, research has shown that there may be something about one multiple that particularly resonates with the parent, such as a shared trait, attitude, appearance, or interest. Or it could simply be a special closeness that happens to occur for any number of reasons.

Parents can sometimes feel a lot of guilt over liking one child more than another, and may go to great lengths to hide their preference. Of course, it's important to make sure that each child feels loved and valued, while also honoring the fact that people have different bonds with one another. Ahead, we'll break down why you might prefer one child, how bonding between parents and children develops, and how to navigate this issue with your kids at home.

Is It Normal to Like One Multiple More Than Another?

Preferring one child over another does not make you a bad parent; it just makes you human, says Paul Hokemeyer, LMFT, PhD, a marriage and family therapist licensed in New York. While this can be an uncomfortable issue, parents are not immoral for preferring one child over another.

"While parents [might be] reluctant to admit it, it's perfectly normal and common to feel more connected to one child over the other," says Dr. Hokemeyer. In fact, this issue may be impossible for some parents to avoid. "They're biologically wired to feel more affection for the multiple who mirrors back their love in ways that affirm, rather than challenge them."

Preferring one child over the other does not making you a bad parent; it just makes you human, says Dr. Hokemeyer.

Studies show that parents are likely to be drawn to the child that is most similar to them, in terms of characteristics, personality, interests, and gender. Parents of any set of siblings may experience feeling closer to one child over another, but this issue can be especially intense for those with multiples.

"Parents of multiples are presented with two or more children at the same time," explains Dr. Hokemeyer. "So, instead of myopically looking at one child for a connection, they are looking at several. This instinctual search for a connection between themselves and their child necessarily involves a comparison."

For example, the parent might notice that one child is either more or less active, quiet, athletic, helpful, or considerate than their siblings. "Parents need to understand that this ranking is not a sign they are bad parents, it means that they are mammals whose brains are wired to create meaning and order in the cosmos and their families," says Dr. Hokemeyer. Recognizing what each child brings to the family dynamic is key.

"[My children] are different people, and, as a result, so are their needs," says Sheryl Mansgerger, mother of 8-year-old twins. "It wasn’t until third grade that I noticed that they seemed more conscious of how I attend to them or how I react."

Mansberger says she makes an effort to treat both kids similarly, although at times she may feel closer to one or the other. But above all else, she appreciates the special bond that her twins have with with one another.

Can You Bond With Multiples at Different Rates? 

The parent-child bond develops and fluctuates at different times and at different rates. Likewise, your feelings of extra connection to one multiple over another may ebb and flow over time. This doesn't mean you don't also feel bonded to your other children.

When handled with care, feelings of favoritism are normal and nothing to be ashamed about—and don't inherently cause harm, says Dr. Hokemeyer. However, if kids pick up on these preferences, it can cause psychological distress in the child who perceives being disfavored. Therefore, it's important to make sure each child gets the parent's attention, praise, and consideration.

"My son has notified me that I tend to focus more on Simone with my affections," says Mansgerger, who explains that while she often sees her twins as one unit, she tries to foster their unique personalities, remain neutral and equally attentive, and remember that they are ultimately individuals.

Dr. Hokemeyer suggests that parents try to prioritize bonding with each of their children separately. "Focus on one [child] at a time, deepen the bond, then shift your focus to the other and accomplish the same objective with them." 

Can My Kids Tell If I Have a Preference?

Children with siblings sometimes wonder or may outright ask, "Who is your favorite?" Parents might balk at this question and tell their children that they like them each equally. However, this isn't always accurate and kids can sometimes sense it. In fact, research tells us that children often perceive that one of their siblings is preferred.

This can feel even trickier with multiples as they tend to have more similarities than other types of siblings and often have an intense bond themselves. Additionally, multiples may experience more of a push-pull between their individual and shared identities, making the idea of a "favorite" feel even more fraught.

"To address this in a healthy way, parents should realize that the child they feel is their favorite is, in fact, the child that's most similar to them," says Dr. Hokemeyer. "They can then realize that their other children are gifts who will provide them lessons in life, or tutors who will teach them how to be more empathetic and compassionate human beings."

While using the language of "favorite" should be avoided, you can explain to your children that sharing certain traits with one multiple may make it easier for you to relate to them. Then, you can explain the many ways that you value and care for the child that may feel disfavored. You can point out how much you appreciate the traits and interests that they bring to the family.

"The point is to highlight their strengths rather than criticize them for what you may see as a weakness," says Dr. Hokemeyer.

A Word From Verywell

While it can feel wrong, having a preferred multiple does not make you a bad parent. In fact, liking one child more than the other is perfectly normal and doesn't need to be a source of guilt.

Instead, use the awareness of your feelings as an opportunity to learn more about yourself, your kids, and your hopes for them. You can then use this knowledge to bolster your bond with each of your children, and together as a family unit as well.

6 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Sarah Vanbuskirk
Sarah Vanbuskirk is a writer and editor with 20 years of experience covering parenting, health, wellness, lifestyle, and family-related topics. Her work has been published in numerous magazines, newspapers, and websites, including Activity Connection, Glamour, PDX Parent, Self, TripSavvy, Marie Claire, and TimeOut NY.