The holidays may be over for a while but family harassment, bullying and abuse because of a favorite child still needs to be stopped.  Typical situations are where the parents:

  • Praise, defend and give the best presents or position in the Will to their favorite child.
  • Put down the rest of the children or designate one as the scapegoat.
  • Ignore the faults of one child while continually criticizing the other children.
  • Cater to the whims of the favorite child and blame other children who resist.

Of course, I’m not talking about the situation where one child has an illness or disability that requires lifetime care, although even in this case, parents can use the rest of the children to serve the needs of the most needy.  Some parents even decide to have a second child as an organ donor.  I’m talking about the situations in which the children are basically okay, but one is selected as the favorite.

In some cultures the favored child is the son who will inherit everything while the daughters are raised to serve the ruling male.  You can hear them say, “If only you did what your brother wants, we’d have peace and be a loving family.”

Other families label one sister as the “good child” who is held up as a paragon of virtue or success impossible for the other daughters to reach.  You know who the “bad” or “failures” daughters are.  You can hear the parents say, “Ah, if only you were as loving, kind and good as your sisters.”

Sometimes, one child is favored because mom and/or dad think that child is the sensitive one.  His feelings count more than everyone else’s.  Therefore, they say, we must organize our schedules and plans around the wishes of that child.  “After all,” they say, “We wouldn’t want to disappoint your brother or hurt his feelings.”

The situation is even worse when the favorite children know they can get away with anything and use the power to bully and torment the other children.  You recognize all those sarcastic remarks that have hidden meanings and can drive you crazy.

But no matter how hard you’ve tried, no matter what good deeds you’ve performed or sacrifices you’ve made, eventually you realize that nothing you do will ever be good enough.  The favorite daughter’s wish that they could do more or slightest effort will be counted and praised more than yours.

So what can you do?

These situations are tough because they’re based on hidden feelings and attitudes, and because they’ve been going on for decades.  It feels natural by now; “It’s just the way we do it.”

Some typical steps people use to get free from the domination of the family by one sibling are:

  1. Inner commitment to break the pattern even if that means going your own way.  Stop your negative self-talk; it’ll create self-doubt and destroy your confidence and self-esteem.  It’s not your fault.  It’s about them and their decision to favor one child over the others.  Your goal can’t be to change their behavior; that’s often impossible.  Your goal is to stand your ground so you can create your own island of good cheer if you have to.
  2. Give people a chance by telling them, in private, what you plan to do.  Line up allies if there are any to be had.  Plan specific actions so you can support each other effectively.
  3. Plan tactics carefully.  Pick your fights selectively; don’t fight about everything.  You know what’s likely to happen.  What will you say or do in response?
  4. Stay calm.  Ignore the little snide comments and put downs that used to drive you crazy.  Don’t argue about the details or the old family history.  Don’t debate who is more worthy or who has suffered the most.  Simply state your needs, standards and decisions.
  5. Expect the bullies to spin the story their way, lie and go behind your back to create alliances and pressure groups.  Prepared to be blamed, labeled and shunned.  Prepare to be cut out of the Will.
  6. Be persistent.  Have real consequences, like not attending or like leaving early.  Words, arguments and logic don’t count; only actions count.  Stand your ground.
  7. Prepare to be surprised.  Often, families will accommodate the most stubborn and difficult person, whether they’re right and fair or not.  You may have to be more stubborn than anyone else.

Get a good coach to help you rally your spirit and plan effective tactics.

Your task is to create a family that honors, respects and appreciates you, a family in which your great efforts are worthy of being honored, a family of your heart and spirit.  That may or may not be the family you were born into.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Ben Leichtling, Ph.D. is author of the books and CDs “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” “Parenting Bully-Proof Kids” and “Eliminate the High cost of Low Attitudes.” He is available for coaching, consulting and speaking.  To find practical, real-world tactics to stop bullies and bullying at home, school, work and in relationships, see his web site (http://www.BulliesBeGone.com) and blog (http://www.BulliesBeGoneBlog.com).

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