I don't know what rendered me the golden child. There's nothing unusual or exceptional about me. Perhaps because I was the eldest, and a sickly baby who survived a tenuous first year – I don't know.
What I do know is that I hated every single minute of it.
From early on I noticed that I was given certain privileges: leniency, fewer chores, less criticism, more praise, my own room.
On weekends and holidays I would hear my sisters play together in their shared bedroom. I longed to be part of the camaraderie, that cheeky joy of doing slightly offbeat things while the adults were nowhere to be seen. Sometimes I'd try to join in, but it never felt organic.
I could already feel the resentment that has continued into adulthood and left our relationships irreparably fractured – the resentment that would deny us the close bond that I so desperately craved.
The attention heaped on me made me uncomfortable and increased my natural shyness. During the inevitable moments of sibling conflict, I was never left to fight my own battles. I'd feel like screaming, "Let me work this out my own way!"
Along with the favouritism came a pressure to perform, to prove that I was favoured for a reason. To legitimise a false, manufactured superiority that I didn't feel or possess. To prove that I deserved the piano lessons that I never asked to take, or the new shoes that I loathed because they weren't as comfortable as my old favourites which had been passed down to my younger sister.
If my parents were trying to protect me, or give me an advantage, they failed miserably. Any praise I received seemed hollow and impersonal. It felt designed to hurt others, an odious and mean comparison that I didn't deserve or appreciate.
Any mention of my discomfort about it was simply denied. Sometimes it felt as if I was part of a long-term social experiment minus the ethics approval, one that I certainly didn't remember signing up for.
As a teenager, I started breaking the rules to try to change my parents' perception of me – binge-drinking, staying out late, being lazy at school. In hindsight, I wanted them to criticise me so I could gain my sisters' approval. I wanted a connection with them any way that I could get it, to rid myself of the title of golden child.
As we stumbled recklessly into adulthood, my sisters' resentment toward me grew and I developed a sense of nagging guilt. I'd be almost apologetic about anything I achieved – graduating from university, getting a new job, travelling – even though I'd worked really hard for it. The guilt was always there, gnawing away at my self-confidence and sense of achievement and leading to anxiety and depression.
There have been several short-term reconciliations with my siblings following births and marriages, illness and death. But resentment is always the elephant in the room that causes our relationships to crash and burn again. The cracks penetrate the generations, damaging the foundations needed for our own children to form meaningful connections.
I long to tell my sisters: "It wasn't my fault. I didn't want it to be that way. I wanted to be just like you." I long for them to see me as the person I can't really be in their presence, because I am always walking on eggshells. But my words fall on unbelieving ears. The damage has been done and I can't undo it. Research shows that favouritism by parents is natural (it's called "differential parenting"). We all respond more positively to certain personalities, but the trick is the ability to hide these feelings. To resist the urge to play favourites and even things up for the sake of family dynamics and the wellbeing of all involved.
I still don't know exactly what traits I have that made me the chosen one. As a parent of an only child, I have had the luxury of being able to give them my undivided attention without reservations. I haven't experienced the pull of favouritism. But if I did, I'd like to think that I could unleash my inner dishonesty to banish the concept of the golden child for good.
* The author's name has been changed.