How can we avoid family strife?

Is there any jealousy or hatred in your family? Are there siblings who don’t get along? Is there strife between parent and child? If so, how did the strife start? Was it avoidable?

One way for parents to prevent family strife is to avoid favoritism. Genesis 37 illustrates why it is important to avoid having a favorite child. It also illustrates a trap that parents often fall into that leads to favoritism and strife.

Jacob had spent 20 years living with his uncle, during which time he got married and had children. Eventually he returned to the land of Canaan where his father had lived. After he returned, there was strife amongst his sons because Jacob openly favored one son over the others? Why did Jacob favor one son over the others?

Gen. 37:1 ¶ Now Jacob lived in the land where his father had sojourned, in the land of Canaan.

Gen. 37:2 These are the records of the generations of Jacob. ¶ Joseph, when seventeen years of age, was pasturing the flock with his brothers while he was still a youth, along with the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives. And Joseph brought back a bad report about them to their father.

Gen. 37:3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons, because he was the son of his old age; and he made him a varicolored tunic.

Gen. 37:4 His brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers; and so they hated him and could not speak to him on friendly terms.

Joseph got his brothers in trouble, and that may have been part of the problem, but the bigger problem was that Jacob loved Joseph more than his other sons because Joseph was the son of his old age. Also, his other sons knew he favored Joseph. The favoritism caused Joseph’s brothers to hate Joseph.

What did Joseph do to inflame the situation? Notice the word “hate”.

Gen. 37:5 ¶ Then Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more.

Gen. 37:6 He said to them, “Please listen to this dream which I have had;

Gen. 37:7 for behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and lo, my sheaf rose up and also stood erect; and behold, your sheaves gathered around and bowed down to my sheaf.”

Gen. 37:8 Then his brothers said to him, “Are you actually going to reign over us? Or are you really going to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.

It wasn’t Joseph’s fault that he had the dream, but it was his choice to tell his brothers about his dream. Telling them caused them to hate him even more.

In the following verses, notice the word “rebuked” and the word “jealous”.

Gen. 37:9 ¶ Now he had still another dream, and related it to his brothers, and said, “Lo, I have had still another dream; and behold, the sun and the moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.”

Gen. 37:10 He related it to his father and to his brothers; and his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have had? Shall I and your mother and your brothers actually come to bow ourselves down before you to the ground?”

Gen. 37:11 His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind.

The word “jealous” tells us that Joseph’s brothers did not merely hate Joseph, they wanted what he had. Is it possible that they feared that Joseph’s dreams would come true? Jacob rebuked Joseph; however, Jacob also “kept the saying in mind”. Did he also believe that Joseph’s dream might come true?

Again, Joseph did not help the situation when he told his dream to his brothers, but the underlying problem amongst the brothers was that Jacob openly favored Joseph over the rest of his sons. What about you? Do you favor one child over the others? If so, why? Have you considered that you may be causing resentment within your other children? If you are a favored child, do you flaunt it? If so, why? Have you considered that you are inflaming an already bad situation?

Jacob favored Joseph because Joseph was the son of his old age, and was the first son of Jacob’s favorite wife, Rachel. The problem is that neither Joseph nor his brothers chose when to be born. How would you feel if your parent preferred your sibling based solely on birth order?

I know of a lady whose mother resented her because she was born before her mother had been married for nine months. The daughter did not choose when to be conceived, her parents made that choice, but she lived her entire life knowing that her mother resented her for something that was completely beyond her control.

As parents, we have emotions and sometimes it can be difficult to treat all our children fairly and equally. However, just as Jacob caused strife among his sons by favoring one son over the others, so too we may cause strife in our families if we favor one child over the others, especially if the favoritism is due to things completely beyond the control of those that are not favored. As parents, we need to be vigilant that we do not allow our emotions to cause us to favor one child over another, because favoritism can easily lead to jealousy and strife.

 

Further Reading

Do you yearn for parental approval?

Why do siblings fight?

 

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“Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.”