Favoritism and Sibling Rivalry

Updated: Jan 9

My husband and I are raising our two teen boys who are only 10 months apart but could not have been created more differently in physical appearances, personalities, strengths or areas needing strengthening. Technically, they are "step-brothers," but our family always opted for "brothers." They love each other fiercely…. underneath all their bickering 🙄.

We have truly experienced a growth in the closeness between them and us by handling their rivalries with the ideas in this article. Of course, things are not always harmonious in our home, but we are thankful for the connection we do share. I pray this article blesses you and your family as well!

From the Bible Project Video: Genesis Ch 1 - 11

Cain and Abel were the first siblings recorded in the Bible in Genesis 4. Cain farmed the land and Abel cared for the animals. You quickly get the sense that they couldn’t have been more different in interests, talents, or desires of the heart. When they brought offerings to God, the Lord accepted Abel’s offering, but not Cain’s. This made Cain jealous…which turned to anger (remember that anger is usually a secondary emotion) and he literally killed his brother!

Fast forward to Genesis 25 and we find Jacob and Esau appearing to be rivals even before birth. They struggled in Rebekah’s womb, and Jacob was born holding onto Esau’s heel. As they grew, favoritism abounded as Rebekah loved the quiet Jacob who preferred to stay inside. While, her husband Isaac loved Esau as he was a skillful hunter and ate his game. Imagine growing up in a home where you knew one parent loved you best and the other loved your sibling best? Ouch! How could anything but jealousy, insecurity, and pride exist in that kind of environment?

From the Bible Project Video: Genesis Ch 12 - 50

You may recall that one day Jacob convinced a very hungry Esau to sell him his birthright for something to eat. And then, when the time came for Issac to bless his firstborn Esau with leadership over the family, he was deceived by both Rebekah and Jacob. Even though Jacob was the child chosen by God to carry the family line, he and his mother used deceptive methods to get what they wanted.

How amazing is it that God worked (and does still today) through us in spite of our failures, deceptions, and sin!

Five Ways We Alleviate Sibling Rivalry in our Home:

1. It is important to recognize that God created each of us with a desire to be loved and accepted ultimately in Him, but He gifted us with family here on earth to be tangible representations of Him.

When that desire is not met, we try to DO things to get it - like work harder, look better, do more. Our children tend to compare and compete with their siblings in hopes to meet that God-given need, which can create sibling rivalries. This is seen so clearly in both the accounts of Cain and Abel and Jacob and Esau…and sometimes in the lives of our own two boys!

2. Next, we need to identify our own biases toward our individual children and openly discuss it with our spouses.

Look, it’s OK to love your children differently - they are different people! However, if you don’t acknowledge this and instead insist to yourself or them that you “love them all the same,” it is simply disingenuous. They know it and so do you. Let’s just be honest about it, knowing that we have a Father who loves each of us individually more than we could ever know or deserve.

3. Be aware of when your children appear jealous and make a guess at the need they have that isn’t being met:

“You seem like you’re having a difficult time and want my help. I haven’t been able to help you as much since the baby came. That’s hard, isn’t it?” Or: “I’ve noticed that your face looks sad when I play with your brother. It must be hard for you to share me with him.” Acknowledge the need, reminding them that God gave us a spirit of power, love, and self-control but not fear, and help them to turn from selfishness and toward contentment and love.

4. It’s very important that we as parents intentionally carve out one-on-one time with each child on a regular basis.

In our home, we started when our kids were very young to have “Talk Time” several times a week when we put them to bed. This was a special time when just one of us and one child would spend about ten uninterrupted minutes together. Our children would lead the conversation during this time and we would simply listen or answer their questions. Using this intentional time to build connections with your children will go a long way in helping them cooperate with you - and each other!

5. Create “Family Rules to Keep Us Safe” to help children relate well with their siblings and others in their lives.

Work toward telling them what TO DO rather than NOT to do. Examples may include:

  1. Speak kindly to each other (Ephesians 4:29; Proverbs 12:20, 15:1)

  2. Encourage each other to do good (Hebrews 10:24)

  3. Think of others first (Philippians 2:3)

  4. Confess, seek, and receive forgiveness (Psalm 32:5; James 5:16)

  5. Be grateful for all our blessings (Philippians 2:14;1 Thessalonians 5:18)

Please, let me know how this has helped relationships in your home feel more connected and harmonious!

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