Being mom’s favorite can be super depressing

Being your mother's favorite child may not be such a great thing after all. A new study suggests favorite adult children report higher depressive symptoms, just as those children in whom mothers are most disappointed. (Credit: Liliana/Flickr)

Being a mother’s favorite child can be just as hard as being the one in whom she is most disappointed, according to a new study that suggests the honor can weigh heavily on psychological health.

“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,” says Jill Suitor, a professor of sociology at Purdue University.

The findings are based on the first and second phases of the Within-Family Differences Study. Data for the study were collected seven years apart from 725 adult children within 309 families in which mothers were 65 to 75 when the project began in 2001. The four dimensions of favoritism and disfavoritism are emotional closeness, conflict, pride, and disappointment.

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“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,” says Megan Gilligan, assistant professor in human development and family studies at Iowa State University and a former Purdue graduate student.

Published in the Journal of Gerontology: Social Sciences, the study also compared patterns by race. Previous studies have shown there is greater closeness in black later-life families. Approximately one-quarter of the families in the current study were black.

“What we found suggests that the black offspring were particularly distressed when they, as opposed to their siblings, were the children in whom mothers were most disappointed,” Suitor says.

Karl Pillemer, professor of human development at Cornell University is also a coauthor of the study. The National Institute on Aging funded the work.

Source: Purdue University