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Carolyn Hax: Is having a favorite child ‘the dirty little secret of parenting’?

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)

Carolyn Hax is away. The following is from March 7 and 14, 2008.

Dear Carolyn: I have three kids. I love them all.

But one of them is my delight. I don’t admit this to anyone, not even my husband. I try so hard not to favor her in any way. There are big age gaps between all three kids, so it’s reasonably easy to hide. Plus, I’m seriously motivated.

In all my courtside, backstage, poolside, deck-chair conversations with other moms, no one EVER talks about this, no matter how many margaritas have been swirled. Is this the dirty little secret of parenting? Or are most people really fair in their affections?

— Anonymous

Anonymous: I’m choosing against any answer that requires purity of “most people.”

I do think it’s common to feel and highly uncommon to express. Not because I have insight into a statistically significant sampling of parents, or specific firsthand knowledge (of course!), but because it makes too much sense.

Take the feelings people do express freely: We prefer one parent to another, one sibling to others, one grandparent, aunt, colleague, neighbor, dog, barista, TV character to others. Are you friends with a couple? Then you like one half better. The Earth is round, the sky is blue and some people fit better than others.

Follow the logic, and having equal feelings for multiple children would be the affront to nature, yet the reverse seems to earn that distinction.

It’s obvious why: Children are different. There are many reasons, but it’s mainly because there’s no greater power than a parent’s over a child. A good parent knows this, knows the weight of it, and wants to use it to uplift, not to crush. And how better to crush Sammie than to reveal her own mommy likes Pammie better?

So, you summon the same enthusiasm for their different strengths. Your kids will figure it out regardless, but it will matter that they never heard it from you.

Dear Carolyn: Will you please advise on the sensitive subject of speaking with the family of a close friend who killed himself? I learned of this tragedy two months later, when the man’s fiancee answered an email sent to him. (They both lived in Chicago; the fiancee’s parents, his parents, and I are in Ohio.) I didn’t know what to do, so I left a message of condolence when I called his parents. (Thank the deities for answering machines.) I’m uncertain how to behave. This is not an area where one is prepared to make discreet and sensitively written statements.

— D.R.

D.R.: The most pain doesn’t come from well-meaning but indiscreet words; it comes from silence.

This man was ill. He died. That his death was by his own hand doesn’t change those two essential facts. Please send notes to his parents and fiancee, saying how much you’ll miss your friend, how warmly you remember him and how sorry you are for their loss.

If you or anyone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.

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