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Have you heard the comic routine in which the young man complained to his brother, “Mom always liked you best!” It sounds funny when told by a comedian, but in too many homes it’s a heart breaking reality.

Of course, showing partiality to a particular child is nothing new. For instance, Isaac liked Esau better while their mother favored the youngest twin, Jacob. The confusion, plotting and double dealings that resulted couldn’t have helped the family peace of mind and tranquillity! It certainly didn’t build trust among family members.

Why do parents show favoritism? Much of it has to do with expectations. We expect our children to behave in a certain fashion and when they don’t we react, sometimes in a counterproductive fashion. As anyone who has more than one child knows, children are all unique in temperament, appearance and personalities. Yet there are certain family traits that carry over more in some children than others. It is only natural that we will be more tolerant toward those who reflect attributes that we are the most familiar and comfortable with.

Jacob liked his son Joseph best because he was the son of Rachel, the wife he loved. Perhaps he saw his wife mirrored in the young man’s face. Perhaps the youngster’s personality was similar to his mother’s. Whatever the reason, Joseph was treated with favoritism and hard feelings resulted. In fact, his brothers hated Joseph so much that they sold him into slavery. Some even wanted to murder the lad.

All children, regardless of their temperament, need unconditional love. That doesn’t mean that parents should ignore their negative traits. What it does mean is that children should be told by their parents that they love them for who they are. There is no standard they have to live up to before we extend our love. In our home two of our daughters like country and western music. My husband is a strict classical fan. Though he doesn’t care for country and western, he doesn’t criticize their taste in music. He accepts them for who they are and the distinct personalities and tastes that they have.

Growing up, it seemed to me that my mother sometimes favored my youngest brother. It’s only natural, perhaps, for parents to show their youngest more attention. But it can be hurtful to the child who doesn’t understand. I still remember sitting in the back seat of the car and crying because my mother was pointing out the local sights to him while ignoring my presence. My mother never intentionally showed my brother more attention than me. But it was something she did. It’s such an easy habit to fall into. Often we aren’t even aware that we’re doing it.

Have you ever said to one of your children, “Why can’t you be more like your brother or sister?” I have. And later I regretted it. Each child is their own person. They shouldn’t be standing in anyone else’s shadow or trying to measure up to an image that doesn’t fit their personality.

Just assuming that our children know we love them isn’t always enough. How we think and how our children perceive we think might be something very different. We shouldn’t be shy about offering praise when it is appropriate. Solomon tells us, “Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, Sweetness to the soul and health to the bones” (Prov. 16: 24). When children hear us giving appropriate praise, they feel better about themselves and life in general. That doesn’t mean that we flatter our children. It does mean that we take note of their efforts and support them with a few words of encouragement.

Anyone who deals with children often ‘clicks’ better with one child than another. That’s natural. Different personalities blend or clash on occasion. The hurtful part comes when the adult in charge makes a child feel unloved or inferior. There is also the danger that they may be doing damage to the one that they are favoring by causing an unrealistic sense of superiority. “As he thinks in his heart so is he” can also apply to our children. If our children believe we perceive them to be bright, loving, intelligent young people and encourage them to develop their own talents and abilities, chances are that they will endeavor to live up to our expectations. If, on the other hand, we deal with them as if they were sloppy, disrespectful and stupid, chances are they will never reach for anything higher.

On a recent talk show one woman said something to the effect, “I have one bright, intelligent, respectful child, and then I have this one,” motioning to the unhappy girl sitting next to her. She didn’t know it, but both her daughters were living up to her expectations.

Col. 3: 21 tells us, “Fathers (and mothers) provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged” (KJV). This daughter was not only discouraged, she was angry. It showed in her young face. In her discouragement she had turned to overeating and her excess weight only made her mother more critical.

Parents aren’t the only ones who are guilty of favoritism. Teachers, coaches, even ministers have been known to spend more time and attention on one child, or type of child, than another.

Being aware that there is a danger of partiality is the first step in correcting the problem.

God, who is no respecter of persons, loves all His children equally. As people who are trying to put on the mind of Christ, we too should look on each child as a unique creation. One child should never come before another, but each child should be dealt with in a fair and similar manner.

Then truly there will be greater peace in the home. The hearts of the parents will be turned toward their children and the hearts of the children toward their parents in true family unity.