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Being the favorite child in a family, while having many plusses, is not an unmitigated joy, advantage, and blessing…Readers who are aware that either they or people they know who have been bedeviled by the conflict of achieving and maintaining a position of being the favored child will find this book a great source of insight and understanding in this often hidden influence in their lives.”

Howard M. Halpern, PhD, author of How to Break Your Addiction to a Person



Ellen Weber Libby, PhD

Few parents admit it. Yet, it’s a universal fact of family life and relationships. Every mother and father has a natural inclination to like one child best. And, regardless of their status as children, all adults are shaped by the experience of favoritism.

During her thirty-plus years as a practicing psychologist in Washington, DC,
Dr. Ellen Weber Libby has encountered just about every conceivable variation of favoritism in families. She has noted the powerful, positive traits and profound advantages shared by favorite children. She has also observed many negative repercussions of growing up being selected for special treatment. What’s more, she has seen both the benefits and hazards of favoritism played out in her own family—particularly in the tragic case of her mother-in-law’s favorite son, Scooter Libby. Motivated by her clients’ struggles and her charming, confident brother-in-law’s fall from grace and conviction for perjury, Dr. Libby decided to devote a book to the subject.

THE FAVORITE CHILD (Prometheus Books; January 2010; ISBN: 978-1-59102-762-1; $18.00; Paperback), Dr. Libby sheds light on the dynamics of favoritism within a wide range of families. Struck by the long-term impact of favoritism, she uncovered a set of characteristics she calls the “favorite child complex.” As she demonstrates, using vignettes from actual therapy sessions (without revealing the true identities of her clients) and examples of prominent public figures (former Presidents Bill Clinton and George w. Bush among them), this complex affects not only the chosen son or daughter, but all family members, for better and for worse.


The unconscious reasons, as well as the conscious, self-serving motives that drive parents to select a favorite child.

Ø How the role of a son or daughter as the family favorite is often established in infancy.

Ø How favoritism in families follows patterns and often reenacts family history.

Ø Why a father’s favorite sons and daughters and a mother’s favorite sons all tend to be more independent and successful than a mother’s favorite daughters.

Ø The rewards of growing up the favorite, including an edge on developing traits—social astuteness, determination, effectiveness, and optimism—that give rise to confidence and achievement.

Ø The risks of growing up the favorite, including a likelihood of becoming manipulative, feeling entitled, lacking any sense of accountability or sense of self separate from the identity of the dominant, favoring parent.

While favoritism in a family is inevitable, the harmful effects of singling out a favorite—and exempting him or her from consequences—can be avoided. Focusing on how the relationship between parents sets the tone for the family, Dr. Libby advocates the practice of healthy, “fluid” favoritism—in short, shifting the favored status to ensure that each child in the family has a chance to benefit from feeling special. In addition, she offers insights and practical advice to help a parent convey concerns about his or her partner’s inappropriate or excessive favoritism.

A groundbreaking parenting book and more,
THE FAVORITE CHILD explores the fallout of favoritism on a marriage, overlooked siblings, and a grown-up favorite child’s intimate relationships and emotional health. As Dr. Libby stresses, favoritism in families is not only normal, but also a highly manageable and beneficial force. “In taking on the challenge of bringing up children with the confidence and power inherent in being favored while also holding these children accountable for their behaviors,” Dr. Libby notes, “parents contribute positively to the characters of their children—our future leaders in all spheres of society.”

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Ellen Weber Libby, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist who has been in private practice in Washington, DC, for over thirty years. A former faculty member of the University of Maryland, where she had significant responsibility for the clinical training of students, she also held the position of clinical director of a mental health center serving a three-county region. She lives in Annapolis, Maryland.



Author: Ellen Weber Libby, PhD

With a preface by Howard M. Halpern, PhD

Publication Date: January 2010

Price: $18.00; Paperback

ISBN: 978-1-59102-762-1

Publisher: Prometheus Books

Publicity New York, Washington DC and Chicago