Did Your Parents Play Favorites?

Genesis 37:3-4 – Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him.

Samantha’s family had four girls. The parents slept in the primary bedroom and there was a debate about which girls would share the other two bedrooms. Tragically, it was obvious to all the girls that the youngest sister, Tabitha, was the favorite of both their mother and father. She asked her parents if she could have her own room and if her three sisters could share a room. 

The parents said yes, and the three sisters were incensed when their youngest sister broke the news to them saying, “Since I’m the favorite, you have to share a room and I get my own room”. One of the worst triangles that cause an unhealthy family system is when parents play favorites. 

The Old Testament book of Genesis is a multi-generational case study in family systems. Over and over, parents playing favorites leads to bad marriages, brutal sibling rivalries, and brokenness for generations. This pattern of favoritism becomes something of a generational curse, passed from generation to generation with devastating results as we witness in Genesis. With broken family systems being passed from one generation to the next, triangles form as parents play favorites, which causes division between the parents and the siblings. This favoritism and division can lead for generations and even result in cutoff, where one branch of the family tree is chopped off and no longer in relationship with the rest of the extended family. 

Genesis 21 and Genesis 25 report Abraham favoring his son Isaac (Sarah’s son) at the expense of Ishmael (Hagar’s son). Roughly 4,000 years later, the broken family system has led to constant acrimony between Jews, who descend from Isaac, and Arabs, who descend from Ishmael. Genesis 25 reports that Isaac and his wife Rebekah loved one of their twin sons more than the other, with Isaac favoring Esau, and Rebekah favoring Jacob and actually conspiring with Jacob to trick Isaac into giving Esau’s rightful blessing from Isaac as the firstborn to Jacob instead. The favoritism is so bad that the father Isaac calls Esau “my son” (Genesis 27:1), and the mother Rebekah called Jacob “my son” (Genesis 27:8). 

Genesis ends with the lengthy story of Joseph being favored by his father over his brothers and spoiled with things like a coat of many colors and not having to do the same hard labor as the other boys. The brothers become so jealous that they conspire together to throw Joseph into a pit, sell their brother into slavery, and lie to their father, telling him that his favorite son was dead. This is an extreme form of cutoff and what Jesus would call murder of the heart. 

As a parent, it is a sin to have a favorite. This does not mean that every child should be treated exactly the same. Siblings have different levels of maturity, personalities, ages, and strengths and weaknesses. A good parent knows how to best love and lead each child in the ways that are best for that child. To not have favorites means that you are devoted to, loving of, and generous with all of your children. 

In your family growing up as a child, did any of the parents or grandparents play favorites? How did that partiality and favoritism affect your family?

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