Young People Ask . . .
How Can I Deal With Favoritism?
“My sister is two years younger than me and she gets all the attention. . . . It doesn’t seem fair.”—Rebecca.*
THE more attention your brother or sister gets, the more you may feel left out. And if you have a sibling who has outstanding abilities, is experiencing serious problems, or has interests or personality traits in common with your parents, you may have a real fight on your hands getting any attention at all! The more you think about it, the more hurt and angry you may feel.*
However, the Bible cautions: “Be agitated, but do not sin. Have your say in your heart, upon your bed, and keep silent.” (Psalm 4:4) When you are upset and angry, you are much more likely to say or do something that you might later regret. Recall how Cain became agitated over the favored position that his brother, Abel, enjoyed with God. God warned him: “There is sin crouching at the entrance, and for you is its craving; and will you, for your part, get the mastery over it?” (Genesis 4:3-16) Cain failed to master his feelings, and the result was disastrous!
True, you are not about to become a manslayer like Cain. Even so, favoritism can arouse ugly feelings and emotions. Dangers may therefore be crouching at your door! What are some of them? And how can you get the mastery over this situation?
Restrain Your Tongue!
When Beth was 13, she felt that her parents favored her brother and treated her unfairly. She recalls: “My mom and I did a lot of yelling at each other, but it didn’t do any good at all. I wasn’t listening to what she was saying, and she wasn’t listening to what I was saying, so nothing was accomplished.” Maybe you have also discovered that yelling only makes a bad situation worse. Ephesians 4:31 says: “Let all malicious bitterness and anger and wrath and screaming and abusive speech be taken away from you along with all badness.”
You do not need to scream to get your point across. A calm approach usually works better anyway. Proverbs 25:15 says: “By patience a commander is induced, and a mild tongue itself can break a bone.” So if your parents seem to be guilty of favoritism, don’t yell and make accusations. Wait for an appropriate time, and then talk to them in a calm, respectful way.—Compare Proverbs 15:23.
If you focus on your parents’ shortcomings or reproach them for how “unfair” they are, you will only alienate them or put them on the defensive. Focus instead on how their actions have affected you. (‘It really hurts me when you ignore me.’) They will more likely be moved to take you seriously. Also, “be swift about hearing.” (James 1:19) It may very well be that your parents have legitimate reasons for giving your sibling extra attention. Perhaps he is having problems of which you are unaware.
But what if you are prone to fly off the handle and speak rashly when you’re angry? Proverbs 25:28 compares a “man that has no restraint for his spirit” to a city “without a wall”; he is likely to be overrun by his own imperfect impulses. On the other hand, the ability to control your feelings is a mark of real strength! (Proverbs 16:32) Why not wait, then, until you’ve calmed down before voicing your feelings, perhaps even waiting until the next day? You may also find it helpful to get away from the situation, maybe taking a walk or doing some exercises. (Proverbs 17:14) By keeping your lips in check, you can avoid saying something hurtful or foolish.—Proverbs 10:19; 13:3; 17:27.
Another pitfall to avoid is disobedience. Sixteen-year-old Marie noticed that her little brother would never get punished when he disrupted the family Bible study. Frustrated at this seeming partiality, she went “on strike,” refusing to participate in the study. Have you ever used the silent treatment or staged a campaign of noncooperation when you felt something was unfair?
If so, realize that such subtle tactics run contrary to the Bible command to honor and obey your parents. (Ephesians 6:1, 2) Furthermore, disobedience undermines your relationship with your parents. Better it is to talk out your problems with your parents. Proverbs 24:26 indicates that one “who is replying in a straightforward way” earns the respect of others. When Marie discussed the matter with her mother, they came to a mutual understanding, and things began to improve.
The Danger of Isolation
Another unhealthy way of dealing with favoritism is to withdraw from your family or look to unbelievers for attention. This is what happened to Cassandra: “I secluded myself from my family and turned to worldly friends I made at school. I even had boyfriends, and my parents didn’t know it. Then I got very depressed and had a guilty conscience because I knew I wasn’t doing the right thing. I wanted to get out of the situation, but I just couldn’t see a way to tell my parents.”
It is dangerous to isolate yourself from your family and from fellow believers—especially when you are upset and not thinking clearly. Proverbs 18:1 warns: “One isolating himself will seek his own selfish longing; against all practical wisdom he will break forth.” If you find it hard to approach your parents at this time, seek out a Christian friend like the one described at Proverbs 17:17: “A true companion is loving all the time, and is a brother that is born for when there is distress.” Usually such “a true companion” is most easily found among mature members of the congregation.
Cassandra found “a true companion” in her time of need: “When the circuit overseer [traveling minister] visited our congregation, my parents encouraged me to work with him. He and his wife were so down-to-earth, and they took a real interest in me. I could really talk to them. I didn’t feel that they would condemn me. They realized that just because you’re raised as a Christian doesn’t mean you’re perfect.” Their encouragement and mature advice were just what Cassandra needed!—Proverbs 13:20.
The Danger of Envy
Proverbs 27:4 warns: “There is the cruelty of rage, also the flood of anger, but who can stand before jealousy?” Envy and jealousy of a favored sibling has incited some youths to rash actions. One woman confessed: “When I was little, I had thin, wispy, brown hair and my sister had a gorgeous gold mane that grew down to her waist. My father was always making a fuss over her hair. He called her his ‘Rapunzel.’ One night while she was sleeping, I took my mother’s sewing scissors, tiptoed over to her bed and cut off as much hair as I could.”−Siblings Without Rivalry, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish.
Little wonder, then, that envy is described in the Bible as one of the wicked “works of the flesh.” (Galatians 5:19-21; Romans 1:28-32) However, the “tendency to envy” exists in all of us. (James 4:5) So if you find yourself scheming to get your sibling in trouble, make him look bad, or in some other way cut him down to size, envy may very well be “crouching at the entrance,” trying to get the mastery over you!
What should you do if you find yourself harboring such harmful feelings? First, try praying to God for his spirit. Says Galatians 5:16: “Keep walking by spirit and you will carry out no fleshly desire at all.” (Compare Titus 3:3-5.) It may also help to reflect on your true feelings for your sibling. Can you really say that you do not feel some love for that one—in spite of your resentment? Well, the Scriptures tell us that “love is not jealous.” (1 Corinthians 13:4) So refuse to dwell on negative, envy-arousing thoughts. Try to rejoice with that one if he or she is getting special attention from your parents.—Compare Romans 12:15.
Your conversations with your parents may also prove helpful in this regard. If they become convinced of the need to give you more attention, this will go a long way in helping you get over feelings of envy toward your siblings. But what if things don’t improve at home and the favoritism persists? Don’t get angry, yell, or rebel against your parents. Try to maintain a helpful, obedient attitude. If necessary, seek support from mature ones within the Christian congregation. Above all, draw close to Jehovah God. Remember the psalmist’s words: “In case my own father and my own mother did leave me, even Jehovah himself would take me up.”—Psalm 27:10.
Some of the names have been changed.
See the article “Why Does My Brother Get All the Attention?” in the October 22, 1997, issue of Awake!
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Explaining that you feel slighted may solve the problem