Most children have felt their sibling was favored over them at some point in their lives. An older sister might have better grades and earn a later curfew. A younger brother might be a track star and you might spend more time at his sporting events because he is in so many championships. Favoritism tends to breed sibling rivalry. You may not recognize your actions as favoring one child over another; however, if your children perceive it this way, they are going to react as if that is what is happening.
With stepsiblings, favoritism plays an even greater role and can feel much more threatening to your children and your partner's children. With biological siblings, children get used to the ebb and flow of who is the apple of the eye at any given time. With stepsiblings, the fear that you will like your stepchildren better is a new and valid fear for your biological children. Keep this in mind. This is a new situation for you, but it is also new and uncharted territory for your children. You left the other biological parent and are now with your partner; does this mean you might leave your children for your partner's children? Are you going to be nicer to your stepchildren to impress your partner? Will you avoid disciplining your stepchildren since they are not yours and turn all of your anger onto your biological children? These are the questions and thoughts that may be running through your children's minds.
Your stepchildren may have similar questions about their own biological parent, and others about you. Are you going to favor your own biological children? Are you going to encourage their parent to ship them to their other biological parent so you can keep the family only for your biological children? As soon as you or your partner shows a glimpse of favoritism, these are the kinds of questions that may arise. With these questions come fear, anxiety, and anger. Children need to know that they are loved and that this love isn't going to be taken away by anyone else. It is tough to create this balance and make the effort to show you love everyone, but it is very important for the sake of all of the children in the family.
Why is there such rivalry between all the children?
Sibling rivalry is natural and often occurs when resources are scarce. In nature, baby birds fight each other for food. With people, there is competition for what may be perceived as scarce — love and attention. Try to balance what you give and share as much as possible.
What if there is favoritism? Once you married your partner, what if your children started acting out and your stepchildren were angels? It might be hard not to favor them, or to constantly point out to your biological children that your stepchildren are better behaved and have better attitudes. What if the opposite happens? What if the children are mean to one another, and you and your partner favor the one that takes the brunt of the bullying from the other siblings? Every one of these scenarios might happen. You may need to address the fact that certain children are exhibiting more positive behaviors, and because of their positive behaviors it may seem as though they are the favorites. Explain that this is not the case, but that you do appreciate their positive behaviors and wish the other children could act more like this or decrease any negative attitudes.
What is very important is to investigate why children are acting out. What is making your child or your partner's child so negative? Try to find out what is going on and address it. It could be that the child is afraid you will hate him, so he is just going to make you hate him sooner to get it over with. If you are willing to talk to him, and not just compare him to the sibling acting more positively, hopefully he will see that you are open to developing a positive relationship with him.
What happens if your partner favors his children? This issue needs to be talked about between the two of you, and addressed delicately. Try and point out specific instances to your partner where it appeared as though he was nicer to or favoring his children. Don't confront him and blame him, but point it out, commenting that when he did this it made your children feel less involved, less cared for, or unimportant. Your partner may not realize he is doing this, or he may appear to be favoring his children simply because he is accustomed to them and not as comfortable interacting with your children. Do give the relationships time; however, you can notice how things are going and gently point out how to make everyone feel included.