I come from a family where the parents were divided on the subject. I have three sisters and a brother. Each of the girls felt that Dad loved them the best. We have no idea how he kept from showing favoritism, but he was a master at it. Dad's been gone almost 20 years, but we are still comforted by the sense of love and family that he instilled.
My mother has always championed my brother. Given the ridiculous lengths she has sometimes gone to defend him, it's a wonder he turned out so well! For the longest time the phrase "You always DID love him better" would pop up at family gatherings. He would smile a cheesy grin and nod.
One year in an attempt to get even, she had t-shirts printed for the two of them that said "I DID love HIM better," and they wore them to the family Thanksgiving dinner. It didn't stop the taunts, but it slowed them down.
I'm glad Dawn is contemplating the subject of parental favoritism because it's an issue that has a long range impact. Children who feel like second class citizens within their families carry that image into their adult lives, and it's very difficult to derail this perception once it gets a foot hold.
Dawn and I have similar situations. My mother more strongly identifies with one of my sisters, than with me, but she's lived with me for the last fourteen years. My mother feels that her sense of humor is similar to Sister#2. My sense of humor is different, and since Mother doesn't recognize my humor, she will tell people that I don't have a sense of humor. (Ya GOTTA have a sense of humor to choose to have your mother live with you, believe me!)
My mother will ask my opinion on a subject. Her first response is to tell me I'm wrong. Then she'll mull it over, and call one of my siblings. Frequently they tell her exactly the same thing, and she takes their advice, giving them credit for the resolution of the problem. I'm not sure why she automatically assumes that I am wrong, but I've given up worrying about it.
I'd be the first to tell you that my mother and I are as different as night and day in some respects. And there are ways where we are identical. I don't have children of my own, but if I had experienced parenting, I hope that I would have found those areas where my children and I were alike and encouraged our relationship based on the similarities.
It's rare when a child is the exact image of their parents in personality. I'm sure there are "nurture" issues which encourage a child to respond as their parents do, and there have to be similar responses based on genes, but each of us is an individual, with individual responses. A parent is obligated to take all the differences in stride and do their best to raise a child in a loving manner.
Having said that, I know dozens of people who look at their children and say "Who ARE YOU?" THere have to be periods in their lives when children are total strangers and you don't have a clue as to what's going on in their lives. I still think it comes down to showing them that you love them. What better foundation could there be for a parent/child relationship?