Is Being Mom’s Favorite Really A Good Thing? Read Surprising Study Results

Siblings often argue over who is really mom’s favorite child, but according to new research, the perception that one is the maternal favorite among siblings might not be a good thing. Bragging rights aside, according to research out of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, people who believe they are their moms’ favorite children are actually at an increased risk of depression. Adult children who believed they were emotionally closer to their mothers than their siblings were are actually more likely to show signs of depression, according to a study entitled “Role of Perceived Maternal Favoritism and Disfavoritism in Adult Children’s Psychological Well-Being,” which was published in the Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences.

In a medium sized study involving 725 adult children of 309 mothers who were participants in the longitudinal Within-Family Differences Study, which aims gain a better understanding of relationships between parents and their adult children, data on the adult children’s perception of maternal favoritism and disfavoritism was assessed.

The researchers looked at the children’s perceptions of emotional closeness to, conflict with, pride from, and disappointment from their mothers. The researchers also examined symptoms of depression among these adult children. People were most likely to suffer depression if they were closer to their mothers than their siblings were, putting a new frame on examining the effects of sibling rivalry. The researchers think that sibling rivalry might actually be at the root of these higher rates of depression on these adult children. Alternately, according to Medical News Today, it might come from an increased feeling of responsibility for maternal geriatric care that comes with being mom’s favorite.

“There is a cost for those who perceive they are the closest emotionally to their mothers, and these children report higher depressive symptoms, as do those who experience the greatest conflict with their mothers or who believe they are the children in whom their mothers are the most disappointed,” Jill Suitor, a professor of sociology and member of the Center on Aging and the Life Course, explained stating that both favoritism and disfavoritism can have an impact on psychological well-being.

“This cost comes from higher sibling tension experienced by adult children who are favored for emotional closeness, or the greater feelings of responsibility for the emotional care of their older mothers,” Megan Gilligan, assistant professor in human development and family studies at Iowa State University and former Purdue graduate student who collaborated on the research, explained.

The other group of adult children that were most likely to be depressed were the siblings who felt that they were the most disappointing child compared to their siblings from their perceptions of their mother’s feelings.

The researchers also examined the data by race, because earlier studies showed that adult children in black families demonstrate higher levels of closeness with their mothers. Adult children of black mothers were especially affected with depression when they disappointed their mothers more than their siblings did.

Both being the favorite child and being the most disappointing child can increase the likelihood of depression, the authors say, but both of these influences are likely strongly linked to comparing themselves with siblings in both black and white adult children.

“These patterns suggest that the association between psychological well-being and both favoritism and disfavoritism can be accounted for by processes involving social comparison rather than equity for both black and white adult children in midlife.”

The research was funded by the National Institute on Aging and was co-authored with Karl Pillemer, who is a professor of human development in the College of Human Ecology at Cornell University, according to a press release. Purdue graduate students Siyun Peng and Jong Hyun Jung also participated on the research team that discovered that being mom’s favorite might not be all that it seems cracked up to be.

[Image via Pixabay]

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