Young People Ask . . .
Why Does My Brother Get All the Attention?
“What bothers me is that when my brothers and sisters misbehave, they get a lot of attention—positive and negative. But since I tend to be obedient, I’m taken for granted.”—18-year-old Kay.*
“My brothers and sisters are given more attention and are treated better. Whatever attention I get is mostly in the form of counsel. I’d feel better if I knew they got counseled too.”—15-year-old Ruth.
“It seems to me that my older brothers and sisters get more privileges and attention.”—13-year-old Bill.
FROM the day we are born, all of us need attention from our parents. And if you feel that you are not getting your fair share of it, you may understandably feel hurt and angry. Especially so if it seems that your sibling—the oldest, the youngest, the best-behaved, or even the most disobedient—is in the spotlight all the time. You may even feel as David did when he wrote: “Like someone dead and not in the heart, I have been forgotten; I have become like a damaged vessel.”−Psalm 31:12.
Watching a sibling get attention that you’d like to have yourself can be painful. But does it necessarily mean that you are unloved? Not at all. Sometimes youths get extra attention because they have exceptional abilities or outgoing personalities. Says 11-year-old Kenneth: “Even though my younger brother, Arthur, is only in the third grade, he is playing in the fifth-grade band. He’s also good at sports and math. In fact, he gets A’s in all his classes at school. Sometimes I think people like him better than me, but I’m not jealous of him. Well, maybe a little.”
Then there are youths who seem to get the lion’s share of their parents’ time simply because they are the oldest—or the youngest. The Bible says of the young man Joseph: “Israel loved Joseph more than all his other sons, because he was the son of his old age.”(Genesis 37:3, 4) On the other hand, 18-year-old Todd felt that his brother was favored for being the oldest. He recalls: “Once we were asked to bring in a favorite baby picture for a school project. I could only find a few pictures of myself and noticed many more pictures of my older brother. It made me wonder why.”
Often, though, extra attention is being doled out because a sibling is having problems—perhaps problems of which you are unaware. “When I was about 16, my older brother went through a difficult time,” explains Cassandra, now 22. “He wasn’t sure if he really wanted to serve Jehovah, and my parents focused almost all their attention on him. At the time, I couldn’t understand why. I felt that they didn’t care about me at all. It made me feel sad and left out—kind of mad too.”
Why They Show Favoritism
Sometimes, however, parents are guilty of outright favoritism. One mother admitted: “I know my son, Paul, is painfully aware of the great pride we take in our daughter. He’s told us point blank, ‘You and Daddy always look at each other when Liz says something.’ At first we didn’t know what he was talking about. Then we realized that we constantly exchange these ‘isn’t-she-terrific’ looks. Since he’s alerted us, we’ve made a real effort not to do it anymore.”
But why do parents show favoritism in the first place? Their own upbringing may be a factor. For example, if your mother grew up as the youngest child, she may identify more closely with her youngest. Without being aware of it, she may tend to take that one’s side. Or a parent may have an affinity for a child with whom he shares a similar disposition or common interest. Consider what the Bible says of Isaac and Rebekah regarding their twin sons, Jacob and Esau: “The boys got bigger, and Esau became a man knowing how to hunt, a man of the field, but Jacob a blameless man, dwelling in tents. And Isaac had love for Esau, because it meant game in his mouth, whereas Rebekah was a lover of Jacob.”−Genesis 25:27, 28.
What should you do if your parents seem to favor one of your siblings?* You might try talking to your parents about it in a calm, nonaccusing way. (Proverbs 15:22) By listening respectfully to them, you may be able to see things from their point of view. This may help to defuse your frustration. (Proverbs 19:11) Says one teenager: “It really bothered me that my Mom was more drawn to my brother than to me. When I asked her about it, she explained that since he is a lot like Dad, she is drawn to him. And since I am a lot like her, Dad is drawn to me. Likewise, because she and I are a lot alike, we get on each other’s nerves. And because my father and brother are a lot alike, they drive each other crazy. Once she explained it that way—even though I wasn’t overjoyed about it—I could accept it.”
Unequal Treatment—An Injustice?
Why, though, can’t parents simply treat everyone exactly the same? Beth, now 18, says: “When I was about 13, I felt that my brother and I ought to be treated equally—exactly the same. But I was the one who was always getting yelled at, while he got away with everything. And he got to spend more time with Dad working on the car. It seemed so unfair.”
But unequal treatment is not necessarily injustice. Consider how Jesus Christ treated his apostles. Unquestionably he loved all 12, yet he invited only 3 of them to witness certain special events, including the resurrection of Jairus’ daughter and the transfiguration. (Matthew 17:1; Mark 5:37) Furthermore, Jesus had an especially close friendship with the apostle John. (John 13:23; 19:26; 20:2; 21:7, 20) Was this unequal? Definitely. Was it unfair? Not at all. For while Jesus may have been particularly drawn to certain ones, he did not ignore the needs of his other apostles.—Mark 6:31-34.
In a similar way, it may be that one of your siblings gets special attention because of talents, personality, or needs. Naturally, this can be painful to observe. But the question is, Are your needs really being neglected? When you need your parents’ advice, help, or support, are they there for you? If so, can you really say you are the victim of injustice? The Bible encourages us to deal with others “according to their needs.” (Romans 12:13) Since you and your siblings are individuals with various needs, it just isn’t possible for your parents to treat you the same all the time.
Beth, quoted earlier, thus came to realize that equal treatment is not always fair and that fair treatment is not always equal. She says: “I came to appreciate that my brother and I are two different people and need to be treated differently. Looking back, I can’t believe I couldn’t see that when I was younger. I guess it’s just something about the way you look at things at that age.”
Learning to Be Discerning
Yes, “the way you look at things” has a lot to do with how you react to your situation. Like tinted lenses, your emotions can color the way things appear to you. And the emotional need for parental attention and approval is strong. Researchers Stephen Bank and Michael Kahn observe: “Even if parents were able to achieve the impossible dream of treating their very different children even-handedly, each child would perceive the parents as favoring one of the other children.”
For example, take another look at what was said by the three youths quoted at the outset. Their situation would seem to be bleak but for one fact: They are siblings! Yes, each one imagines that the others are getting more attention and that he or she is the one being ignored! Often, then, our view of things is a little distorted. “A man of discernment is cool of spirit,” says Proverbs 17:27. To be discerning is to view things realistically and objectively, not emotionally. Discernment may help you to realize that although your parents may not treat you all the same, they do have the best interests of all of you at heart! Realizing this can help you avoid being angry and bitter.
What, though, if it legitimately seems that you are not getting your rightful share of attention? What can you do? This will be considered in a future issue of Awake!
Some of the names have been changed.
A future article will develop more fully the subject of dealing with favoritism.
[Picture on page 26]
Unequal treatment can seem unfair