Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Q: I have a very kind friend who has a great deal in common with me, including two preschool-age children. Our older kids are a few months apart in age, as are our toddlers. In repeated conversations lately, though, Friend seems to have a pronounced preference for Older Kid. Friend shares stories that end with "and Younger Kid just ran everywhere. I can't take Younger shopping/out to eat/(other activity)." Or "I'll take Older to X, but I can't take Younger." I can't remember the last time I heard something positive said about Younger.
Friend has also shared stories about picking Older up for an outing while Younger stays at the same day care.
While every child is different, I do know what it's like to have two kids. I also know toddlers can be maddening. But the exclusion and never hearing a nice thing about Younger make me sad.
I don't know what to say to Friend, as this is so at odds with her many great traits. I also can't imagine what it's like for Younger, especially if Younger starts to pick up on the different attitudes.
Carolyn: It sounds as if you haven't actually witnessed any favoritism — so your friend might well be great with Younger, and save the negatives for conversation with a (seemingly sympathetic) fellow parent.
You can still bring this up without overstepping, though, by asking the kind of routine followup question friends normally ask. For example, "How does Younger feel about your doing this with Older? Has s/he noticed yet?" Or even, "Clearly Older is a lot easier than Younger ... I worry we'll have phases like this, too. How do you handle the whole issue of not appearing to play favorites?"
In other words, treat it as something she surely has already thought about and resolved, versus a crime against Younger that only you've been sharp enough to spot. That will make you a safe place for her to talk about this, and there aren't many of those; judgment stalks all parents, especially the parents of high-energy, run-everywhere kids.
If you draw her out on the topic of unfairness, it follows that she'll be more aware of her own choices and more likely to address them — assuming she isn't already there in ways you don't witness firsthand.
Anonymous: When my toddler started day care, I thought it would be fun to pick him up for lunch on occasion.
Maybe when he's older, but right now? No way. He's 20 months old and thrives on his routine, and it would really throw him off for me to drop in and out of his day unexpectedly.
Toddlers can be hard. I love my son to the moon and stars and back, but he's also in tantrummy, screamy, crazypants territory and there are days when he is absolutely exhausting. Friend, since you have a toddler, too, maybe a little more empathy? Or if you can't identify because your kids haven't gone through this phase, maybe stick to quietly counting your blessings?
Carolyn: Indeed, Friend did blow past the "while every child is different." Judging other parents' experiences against one's own has some value, but only with a huge but-you're-not-in-their-shoes asterisk.