How do narcissistic mothers dress up their children

"Mr. Frick, is there a typical favorite child?"

Choosing one child over the other is taboo for mothers and fathers. Still, it happens very often, says Juerg Frick. The psychologist over Favorite children, too high demands on parenthood and unresolved conflicts from one's own childhood.

Interview: Evelin Hartmann
Images: Roshan Adhihetty / 13 Photo

A cold winter day in Uerikon ZH. “It's right up there,” says Jürg Frick, pointing to a new white building. Once there, the psychologist unlocks his front door, leads the editor and photographer up the stairs and through the large living room to his treatment room, where he usually receives his patients. Today he tells us about his findings from sibling research.

Mr. Frick, parents love their children equally, don't they?

That is the claim of all parents - the reality is often different.

A surprising thesis.

Which is proven by studies. One child is usually - or at least temporarily - closer to mother or father than the other. Children are individual personalities with a wide range of traits, behaviors, inclinations and a distinctive, distinctive appearance. And all of this meets the unconscious expectations, likes, dislikes and experiences of the parents. For example, the daughter behaves similarly to the beloved mother, while the son is similar to the hated father. Through such associations, children unconsciously trigger strong projections, feelings and wishes on their parents.

Is there a typical favorite child?

Parents tend to be most sympathetic to the children who are most like them. But not only! Family constellations are always a complex construct, and it is important to look carefully at how the maternal and paternal sides play a role.

Openly admitting that one would rather have a child is one of the taboos of parenting.

Correct. And has to do with the idea that parents should always be just and fair, otherwise you are not a good mother or a good father. But always behaving this way is simply impossible. If you measure yourself against this claim, you quickly get guilty.

In earlier times there was a lot of neglect, for example because instead of a girl they wanted a boy to be the family owner.

And nobody wants to go back there. Rather, I am concerned with the exaggeration of parenthood, the excessive demands on perfection. Nowadays I have to love my children all the time, treat everyone equally, have time for them and support them in the best possible way, and all of this 24 hours a day.

Parents who have several children know how difficult it is to always respond equally to all of them.

Yes, but it is neither necessary nor possible to meet this requirement! If you did that, you would teach the child: all my wishes and needs are always met immediately! That does not make sense. Of course, the younger a child is, the sooner you have to meet their needs promptly. A 2-year-old cannot make her own jam, a 6-year-old can.

"Preferences and rejection processes happen unconsciously."

Jürg Frick, psychologist.

How much harm do parents do to their child if they prefer the sibling?

First of all: conscious discrimination is very rare. Preferential and rejection processes are usually unconscious. Now it depends on how intense my feelings are as a mother or father, how much they have more problems and then again with the other - or only in certain situations. This is completely normal and no cause for concern at first.

Online dossier siblings:

And what if parents prefer to have a child or even reject one?

Then of course that's a problem. The child does not get what it needs, that you accept and like it. The big task for parents in this case is to be aware of this and not to suppress their feelings - and rather to ask themselves, why you feel less close to a child than to the other and what that has to do with you. And you should definitely try to find an approach to this child as well. The decisive question is not whether you have these feelings, but how you deal with them and work on them.

What if these feelings persist? Should I talk to my kids about it?

I think it makes sense to first go through the books yourself and get professional help if necessary. The child doesn't understand when I say: "I'm angry with you because you remind me of your grandmother, who never had the patience to finish anything." It would be better: "I notice that I did not behave fairly yesterday, but that has nothing to do with you."

A friend once told me that she loved her two children, but that she felt a little closer to her older daughter than to the younger one. The big one is more like it in essence. In order not to be unfair, she therefore keeps a kind of internal bookkeeping: if yesterday the big one was allowed to light the candle before dinner, today it is the little one's turn.

I think it's very good that your friend is so conscious of the subject.

But children have fine antennae for preferences and injustices, don't they feel these feelings anyway?

Sometimes yes. Children “read” on an intuitively preconscious level the parents' feelings, the facial expressions and gestures of the parents towards each individual child - and they draw their personal conclusions from this. For the effects on the child's feelings, thoughts and actions, it is less important whether the mother or father actually preferred the sibling. What matters is how the child perceives the whole thing. In other words: sometimes children have the feeling that they feel something that is not at all.

Children often complain: "You don't love me, otherwise I should be able to do this or that ... the other could do it too."

Children conclude from the parenting attitude of their parents that one does not like them. But of course clear preferences or disadvantages are a problem.

How do you react to such childish accusations?

It depends on the age of the child and the context. And of course from your own feelings. For example, one could ask: "How do you get that?" Then the child will likely answer something like: "Because I don't get that." Or: "Because I have to go to bed now and the other one doesn't." Then I would reply: “Yes, of course, you are younger too. When your siblings were so old, they also had to go to bed earlier. And I love you. "

Suppose the child is not mistaken. Can the other parent take care of this?

Yes, that goes a long way. If the person does not let himself be played off by the child, but tries to make him understand the point of view of the other parent: "Yes, you know, Mom loves you, but she was in a hurry ..." It is also important to encourage this child to make him feel like you are proud of it. It becomes particularly tragic when both parents reject the child, label him as a scapegoat, then it not infrequently turns into what has been projected into him: it ultimately becomes moody, aggressive, cheeky and oversensitive.

Is it more the firstborn, who is preferred by the parents, or is it the baby boy? And what about the sandwich kid?

In our part of the world, sibling succession or gender no longer plays a decisive role in this regard. It is different in patriarchal societies. There the male ancestor still enjoys a special status in the family. Nor can one say whether it is mothers or fathers who prefer one child to another. Rather, preferences depend on the biographical experiences that parents have in the course of their lives.

What are the consequences for the disadvantaged child?

It is very different. If children permanently have the feeling that they are not liked, this can lead to personal problems, to inferiority complexes, and in severe cases to depression, withdrawal, psychosomatic complaints and aggressiveness. On the other hand, children understand unequal treatment as long as this is explained objectively and is understandable for them, for example with the age difference or an illness from which the sibling suffers. There are people who were disadvantaged as children and can deal with it. Or they seek psychological counseling in adulthood and sort it out for themselves. Often they can then understand why the parents acted this way and forgive them to a certain extent.

That would be the best case.

That's true. But there are also people who suffer from this disadvantage all their lives. In the extreme, they fight against the whole world, transferring the rejection they have experienced to everyone else. Some of those affected are only complaining, constantly seeing themselves as victims or withdrawing. You wear a kind of glasses with a strong clouding - these deviate massively from reality.

What does that do with the sibling relationship?

Continuous preferential treatment of a child can significantly and seriously impair the sibling relationship: from sharp remarks to permanent competition and jealousy to long-term or lifelong contact between siblings, there are countless variants and developments. Some people affected, favored and disadvantaged, can also later discuss what they have experienced with their siblings, exchange ideas and understand better afterwards why the parents reacted in this way.

From a certain age you can avoid your siblings.

You can do that, but you take your sibling conflict with you. As long as you don't do anything about it, you are still subconsciously concerned with it. And when the parents need help or die at the latest, the siblings have to sit down again and then the old, unresolved conflicts are updated again as if at the push of a button.

"Whoever was preferred as a child thinks the whole world is based only on him."

Jürg Frick, psychologist.

Are there any disadvantages for the preferred child?

Oh yeah. The one who is always preferred learns: he is the privileged. He later expects this preferential treatment in relationships, partnerships, at work, etc. in the sense of: The world is based on my wishes and ideas. That creates problems for him, he gets corrupted. That is a disadvantage later, because usually the whole world does not dance the way I want. Often these people are very insensitive to injustices. It goes up to narcissistic self-exaggeration with egomaniacal ideas.

And in childhood?

It depends on. There are children who find this preferential treatment uncomfortable because it also has disadvantages: the siblings form coalitions against mum's or dad's darling. Each case is stored individually, but usually the child who is always preferred pays a high price later.

They make a big difference between treating children equally and fairly. What does that mean?

According to many parents and teachers, children are treated fairly if they are all treated equally. But that's not the case. You don't have to treat children the same, you have to give them what they need. This is how you treat your children fairly and age-appropriately.

What do you mean?

Let's take the closest example: twins. One of them says at lunch: "I don't want to eat any more." The other is still hungry. Then the hungry continues to eat and his full brother keeps him company or goes to play. But as a father or mother, I cook a new menu for those who think they are full, not 15 minutes later. Parents should start from what their children need. They should be based primarily on their needs, not just their wants.

Which often triggers anger in the offspring.

A natural reaction: "You're mean", "you stupid mommy", "you don't like me, otherwise I should too" ... Now the question is: How stable am I as a mother or as a father, do I get inside Revolt? Or can I stand it and can calmly say: "How do you get that? It's not possible that I don't like you. I like you a lot." Or do I react insecure and ask myself whether I am a good mother or a good father at all? Parents have to be able to endure something like that. This is conflict resolution training for both sides!

Please complete the following sentence for us: Children need parents who ...

... have time and who encourage their children, trust them to do something, support them, and not just financially. They need parents who listen, do something with them and also make time for their problems. You know, it is very important to me that we look at the issue of “favorite children” in a morally free manner and without assigning blame, and that we look for a pragmatic solution. Parents should open up much more to other parents and discuss their problems and insecurities. Then many would be helped.

More about siblings: