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I must have been about 20 at the time, and not easily mistaken for a virgin.But rules is rules, and boyfriends weren’t allowed to stay in the house – so my mum made him sleep in a tent in the back garden.
I don’t like to think of myself as a survival-of-the-fittest type parent but, once again, the evidence is against me.
I breastfed George for longer – basically, until he batted away the withered dug with a look of disgust – and weaned him like a king.
As my mother herself admits, “I was harder on you because I was always worried about whether I was doing the right thing. With a second one, you don’t have time to be so neurotic.” Indeed, depending on how you frame it, the benign neglect of younger siblings can itself be seen as a form of favouritism.
Just last month, a survey of 1,803 British parents with two children claimed to show that younger siblings were given preferential treatment 59 per cent of the time. The truth is that favouritism is an awfully blunt word for such a complicated subject.
In 2009 two British professors, David Lawson and Ruth Mace, published a study of 14,000 families in the Bristol area.
They found that each successive sibling received “markedly” less care and attention from their parents than their predecessors.As the oldest of two children myself, I can testify that being fussed over doesn’t necessarily feel like preferential treatment. My sister got away with far more mischief than me, simply because my parents were much less anxious about enforcing the rules.Once, for example, a boyfriend hitchhiked all the way from Newcastle to London to visit me.Parents were more likely to side with a younger child in an argument, lavish them with affection and – see? How we treat our children is affected by any number of shifting, interlacing factors: birth order, gender, changes in circumstances, our own childhood experiences.Then, too, some characters just hit it off better than others.Older siblings were even fed better, as a result of which they were likely to be up to 3cm taller than their younger siblings.