Monday, October 20, 2014

Do mothers have favorite children?

The notion that mothers cherish all their children equally is so entrenched in our culture that colleagues warned Karl Pillemer, a Cornell University gerontologist embarking on a study of family favoritism, that his research would be futile. No mother would admit to caring for one child more than another. But his interviewers, talking to mothers ages 65 to 75 about their adult offspring, found that most were willing to name favorites. "Mothers have very distinct preferences," Pillemer said. But not EVERY mother.

Isabelle "Sis" Lennon and her husband Bill raised eleven children in a modest, two-bedroom home in Venice, CA. For many years Bill was a milkman, and Sis a stay-at-home-Mom. The four older girls, known simply as the Lennon Sisters, sang on the Lawrence Welk show on Christmas Eve, 1955. After that, they performed on the show every Saturday night for 13 years, before hurrying home to wash dishes, change a baby's diaper or do their homework. Fame never went to their heads, because their Dad told them how to handle fans and admirers. "If someone comes up to you in a restaurant and interrupts your meal to ask for your autograph, you have two choices," he said. "By the way you respond, you can make them feel better, or feel worse. Always make them feel better."

In 1969, they were about to star in their own TV variety show, but six week's before the premier, their Dad was shot and killed by a delusional man who believed he was married to one of the sisters. Bill was only 53. The girls were crushed by his loss, and their variety show lasted only one year. But with their Mom's help, they bounced back, touring the nation with Andy Williams. A few years ago, Evelyn and I heard them perform at the Lawrence Welk Theater in Branson, MO.

Isabelle "Sis" Lennon

After their Dad's murder, her kids agree Mom was the glue that held them together. By the time she passed away in 2005 in Branson, she was a great-great-grandmother. After her funeral, all eleven of her children met privately to share recollections of her. Peggy, one of the original Lennon Sisters, said they discovered something very special that afternoon. "As we reminisced, we suddenly realized that each one of us assumed we were Mom's favorite. That's how she made us all feel." Perhaps that's what true motherhood is about?

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