Squabbling siblings and the faults of the favorite

"She stole my jeans and she never gave them back."

"I did not."

"Did too, did too. I went into your room and they were under your bed."

"I didn't steal them, I was just borrowing them. "

"It's no fair, Mom and Dad let you get away with murder."

What sounds like two teenagers squabbling over a pair of pants is actually two adult women, sisters in their 40s who are still stewing about the perceived injustices of their childhood.

Welcome to the Dr. Phil show. Think your parents treated little Suzie better than you? Take your troubles on national TV and see if the big guy from Texas can make baby sis behave.

I confess, despite his "aw, shucks" demeanor, I still like Dr. Phil.

It's not so much Phil himself, it's the nutty people he gets on the show that reel me in. They hop up onto those oversized stools, and within minutes, the veneer of adult sophistication is gone. Dr. Phil peels back the emotional onion to reveal deep-rooted feelings they didn't even realize they were acting out.

One of the recurring themes is grown siblings who are still seething about which kid got the bigger share of parental love growing up.

Of course, they come on the show bickering over who got the last piece of Halloween candy. Their adult problems run the gamut from sick parents to financial matters, but it doesn't take long for the real issue to emerge. Buried beneath all the grown-up arguments, you can see a bunch of sad little kids wondering why mommy and/or daddy loved the other guy or gal more.

It's a common quagmire and I doubt the Dr. Phil producers have to look very hard to find adults still harboring resentment toward their siblings.

It's strange. If the parents were awful, but treated everybody equal, the sibling bond will usually stay intact. In many cases, people raised with abusive parents cling to their siblings as one of their primary supports.

But if children perceive that mom or dad treated one kid better than the other, they have a hard time getting over it. It's not so much whether the parents were good or bad, it's favoritism that drives the big wedge. And while it's more common in homes where parental love is in short supply, I've seen it happen in families where the parents were doting.

But here's the deal, even if your parents did favor one child over the other, it's not the favorite's fault.

It might seem like the adored son or pampered princess daughter is basking in the glow of parental adoration and trying to rub it in your face, but in many cases the favorite doesn't even realize they are the chosen one.

Case in point, I know my husband's mother loved her daughter, but it was her son who hung the moon. Even as adults, I could be sitting at the kitchen table looking at my mother-in-law and I could tell from the look on her face which one of her children had walked into the room behind me.

It wasn't until my husband was in his 40s that he realized it himself. And it wasn't until he and his sister were both in their 50s that they finally understood that mom didn't love one less than the other. Her perceived unequal affection had more to do with her own emotions and issues than it did her two children.

So if you're still smarting over who got the last cookie, it might be time to get over it. Stay mad at your parents if you like, but don't take it out on somebody who was nothing but another kid.

E-mail Lisa Earle McLeod at www.forgetperfect.com.