IMMIGRANT FAMILIES 5: If You Are Not the Favored Child
God does not show favoritism1, but unfortunately human parents sometimes do.
Nobody likes to be discriminated against for reasons outside of one’s control. Yet many children of immigrant families have to put up with this underdog feeling daily because they are not the favored child.
In this article, I would like to address directly the unfavored child.
During a meeting on parent-child relationship, two written questions were submitted to me and they revealed the pressure exerted on teenagers and young adults concerning their parents’ practice of favoring one child over the other. More, these questions mirror the heart-cry of many young people in immigrant families.
These two questions are: If a parent plays favorites with his children, what should I do? And, more specifically, Knowing that I’m not the favored child, how can I control my jealously toward the one that is?
There are at least five components to this problem of favoritism. They are:
- Your perception of the discrimination;
- Your relationship with your parents;
- Your relationship with the favored child;
- Your relationship with yourself;
- Your relationship with God.
1. The Problem of Favoritism Itself.
- If you feel you are the unfavored child, be sure your perception is accurate. Check your view with the favored child and with your parents. See if they agree with you. If they deny it, explain to them the evidence that causes you to feel that way and let them have a chance to explain themselves.
- Try to be objective. Same privileges granted to two children do not imply a lack of favoritism and different privileges granted to two children at the same age does not necessarily mean favoritism. Children do mature differently and parents may treat the second child differently from the first one because of their own growth and development. It may have nothing to do with favoritism.
- Avoid the pitfall of the brother of the prodigal son2. The father’s action could be interpreted as playing favorites, but in fact he is not.
Assuming your perception is correct and your parents do favor another child than you, then let’s move on to the second point.
2. Relationship with Your Parents.
- Understand the reasons of favoritism. Try to understand the reason behind your parents’ bias. The favored child may happen to be the baby born in their old age. He may resemble your father’s favorite uncle. Her eyes may be bigger than normal. He may be the first born. Needless to say, no reason is reason enough, but still, understanding their outlook may ease your pain somewhat.
- Do not insist on equal treatment because you are not going to get it and it can only make matters worse. You must understand that from your parents’ perspective, they are acting correctly. Even if they know they are wrong, they have their reasons not to change.
- Work on concrete matters that can win your parents’ confidence in you and make them proud of you. Try to meet their expectations as much as you can but avoid competing with the favored child. Seek to please them in matters you also believe in but may be reluctant to do. Here are some suggestions you may try: send them birthday cards, wash the family car, don’t talk back, and solicit their opinions on courses you should take.
- Show appreciation for your parents. Thank them for what they have done and are doing for you. You may not get as much as the favored child, but you are getting something. Thank them for those things.
- If they deny they favor another child, take their word for it. They may be telling the truth or they may think they are telling the truth. In either case, take their word at face value and concentrate on what you can do.
- Pray for your parents. If they won’t change, your prayers may at least change your attitude towards them.
3. Relationship with the Favored Child.
- Recognize the fact that his favored position is largely, if not totally, not of his own doing but that of your parents’. He is as much a “victim” of circumstances as you are, even though you two are on different sides of the railroad track. In the Bible, Joseph was probably the most well-known favored child. He and his brothers offer an excellent case study of what not to do to the favored child3. Joseph was as much a victim as his brothers.
- Avoid comparing and competing with your favored sibling because even if you win you will lose. Your parents may compare the two of you and the favored child may want to compete with you, but you should not. Instead of competing, concentrate on your own interests and develop your God-given talents.
- Pray for him. Be friendly and cordial. Seek his good as much as you can. If you treat him well, your parents may treat you better.
4. Relationship with Yourself.
Negatively, don’t focus on the fact that it is not fair. Of course it is not but you cannot change your parents’ bias overnight. Besides, focusing on the unfairness of the situation will only enhance your negative feelings of jealously, bitterness, anger, helplessness and revenge.
Positively, thank God for who you are, what you have and what you can do.
Take the case of a person in his thirties who has had polio since childhood. His parents compare him unfavorably with his siblings.
He focuses on what he cannot do. He compares himself with his siblings and with other “normal” people and he is down on himself.
He is often depressed. He sleeps in. He stays in bed after work and on weekends. He withdraws. To avoid rejection, he rejects others first.
Worse, he has suicidal tendencies. Life is not worth living. He is different from others. He is no good. He is better off dead.
I asked him, “The only difference between you and other people in their thirties is that you cannot run, right?” “Yes, that’s right,” he answered. I added, “How many people do you know who are still running in their thirties?” He could not think of anyone.
At the end, he realized he was the only one who was imprisoning himself and he was the only one who could free himself.
So, emphasize what you can do for yourself and leave the result to God.
Force yourself not to play the passive role of simply reacting to your parents and the favored child. Instead, make decisions for yourself, take the initiative and be responsible for your actions.
Head the advice of Paul to Timothy when he wrote, “Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.”4
5. Relationship with God.
- Being an unfavored child produces strong feelings of unworthiness and inferiority. However, realizing the fact our worthiness comes from God who created us in His sovereignty rather than our parents should help us get the proper perspective on the problem. Learning to accept ourselves as He does is a good step in the right direction.
- Our relationship with God is always the most crucial and important under any circumstance, maybe even more so when trying to solve our problems. We can analyze our problems and prescribe appropriate solutions to them but only God can give us the motivation to carry them out.
- Making sure your relationship with God is good is the first step to solving your relationship problems with others.
- Romans 2:11
- Luke 15:25-32
- Genesis 37-50
- I Timothy 4:12