Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: 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.
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.
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 follow-up question friends normally ask. For example, "How does Younger feel about your doing this with Older?" 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.
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