Dear Richard Madeley: ‘I feel guilty because I like one of my sons better than the other’

'I’m worried his behaviour is a response to mine, and I don’t want to trigger some negative feedback loop'
'I’m worried his behaviour is a response to mine, and I don’t want to trigger some negative feedback loop' - getty

Dear Richard,

I’m struggling with guilty feelings because if I’m honest, I just like one of my children more than the other. I’ve been reading about this in online forums, and it seems not uncommon for mums to prefer boys to girls: this is usually viewed as a form of internalised misogyny.

Of course if they treat the boys better, the cycle just goes on. But I have two boys, and find one of them both more fun and more loving than the other. They are still quite small (six and four). We are scrupulously fair about things like screen times, but the elder son comes to me for a cuddle and the younger just plays on his own. He may become more sociable and affectionate as he gets older, of course. But for now I’m worried his behaviour is a response to mine, and I don’t want to trigger some negative feedback loop.

— Anon, via

Dear Anon,

You’re not some sort of human factory, you know, tasked with churning out interchangeable products. Even identical twins develop distinct personalities (as I know from personal experience).

It’s not for me to second-guess your self-analysis: that you prefer one of your boys over the other. But I do wonder if you’re allowing a certain judgmentalism (towards yourself, not the seemingly less-liked child) to cloud your assessment of the situation. Your sons clearly have different personalities, which as I say is to be expected. One is more demonstrative and outgoing; the other more self-sufficient and introverted. So? That’s simply the way they are developing, Anon, and you are only a part of the complex matrix that is helping shape their individual characters.

Of course you derive more pleasure from your warm interactions with the older cuddlebunch than from his more distant brother. What parent wouldn’t? You mustn’t judge yourself for that.

You must also try to remember (and again, with four children of my own I speak from experience) that what you see with your boys today is but a snapshot. Things will change incredibly quickly as they move through childhood – at six and four, they have so far to go.

Currently you find one of them more fun and loving. That’s because he is! You can’t help noting that and responding 
to it. But it’s to your credit that you do all you can to treat both boys equally, and compensate for any discrepancies in your instinctive feelings towards them.

Frankly, Anon, I don’t see that there’s much more you can do. But stop beating yourself up about this. You’re doing your best, aren’t you? And as I say, the scenario you describe is in no way static. I’m quietly confident that in a year or two from now, you’ll be in a position to write me a very different kind of letter.

You can find more of Richard Madeley’s advice here or submit your own dilemma below.

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