Family Matters

When Parents Favor One Kid Over the Other, Is It Okay to Admit It?

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The Internet is a dangerous place for kids. Sickos hover in chat rooms, pornographic sites titillate, cyberbullies lurk. But last month, the enemy assumed an unexpected form: mom.

In the what-was-she-thinking category, Kate Tietje used an essay on Babble to let the world in on a secret: she loves her son more than her daughter. Here, in Arial font for perpetuity, is proof that our embrace of cyberculture has not been a good thing for the human impulse. Shopaholics can now plunk down their credit card at any hour of the day. The information-obsessed can track down thousands of obscure Web pages on thousands of obscure subjects in a millisecond. And, in the Web equivalent of TMI, anyone with a keyboard — mommy bloggers, I’m talking to you — can publish overly personal sentiments, just like that. (More on Ethics, Shmethics. Teaching Kids Right from Wrong Isn’t Easy)

Since when did it become a good idea to freely acknowledge favoring one child over another, particularly via such a widespread medium where Tietje’s daughter can read all about it one day? I hope Tietje has started socking away money for her little girl’s therapy bills.

It’s not that I’m above calling myself out on some questionable maternal behavior; I’ve admitted online — on Babble, no less — to trashing my kids’ artwork. And it’s not like I’ve never harbored uncharitable thoughts toward my kids. I love them with the ferociousness of a mama bear, but they can also drive me crazy. Sometimes that happens simultaneously. That’s normal. That’s parenting.

Tietje describes her daughter, who is 3, as “very independent and challenging,” a kid who “wants things her way, all the time. And she acts out a lot by being extremely rude and defiant when she’s unhappy.” That sounds like my 3-year-old. In fact, it pretty much sounds like every 3-year-old I’ve ever encountered. Challenging, independent, egotistical behavior is developmentally appropriate at this age. It’s a parent’s job to ease kids through this stage, to make mensches out of them, not to trash them online. (More on Time.comPediatricians Should Discuss ‘Facebook Depression’ with Kids)

Some readers praised Tietje’s candidness. “I believe this post deserves an award,” wrote one person. Another commented, “I wish more people would open up and talk like this!!”

The piece in its current iteration has been editorially scrubbed of some of its most jolting sentiments, but eye-popping admissions that don’t seem to be helping anyone persist: “There are moments — in my Sophie’s Choice type musings — when I wonder which child it would really be worse to lose…if I were ever forced to choose.” She quickly attempts to backpedal:

Then I feel terrible and ashamed for ever having thought such a thing, because I really love my daughter and I would never want to lose her at all. When she’s not being defiant, she’s a lovely little girl who makes me laugh and marvel at all of the stories she tells and all the things she can do.

But I know that if I don’t do something about this, and try to get over my weird hang ups and actually be the parent, that she will grow up to accuse me of these things: “Why were you so tough on me? Why were you so impatient? Why didn’t you hold me and love me like you did him?”

Tietje, pregnant with her third, hopes her baby-to-be is a girl so she might stand a chance of redeeming herself as a mother. But it’s not clear this is a boy-girl thing; Tietje says she’s less likely to blow up at her son and more likely to show him affection and respond to his requests, yet is that because he’s a boy or simply because he’s a snugglier kid with whom she feels a stronger bond? (More on Time.comDad Helping with the Kids? Moms: Expect Conflict, Not Cooperation)

Anointing her 20-month-old son the king of her heart seems self-serving and utterly pointless, kind of like blogging that you had an affair while you remain married to your husband. It’s humiliating for everyone involved. A subsequent post, “I’m Not a Perfect Mother” — as if any of us are — hardly changed my opinion of her decision to publicly proclaim her son as her No. 1 squeeze.

Yet although Tietje is wrong to have shared her feelings online, she is right not to ignore them. Girlfriend needs some counseling, and I hope she seeks it out soon — certainly before she gives birth again.

Preferring one kid over another is certainly an age-old topic. I’m convinced my mom prefers my brother to me; my husband suspects his sisters occupy spots 1 and 2 in his family’s hierarchy. Thankfully, we have been unable to get confirmation of said suspicions. I, too, have favorites. The difference between Tietje and me is that which of my three kids falls into that category changes many times a day, based on who’s being particularly adorable or wretched at the moment. Plus, I’d never, ever admit it online — oops, did I just do exactly that? Some things really are better left unsaid.