Sibling rivalry

July 5th, 2017

Jacob lived in the land of Canaan and had many sons; his favorite was Joseph, born in Jacob’s old age. Joseph was the baby of the family and was treated as such by everyone — except maybe his brothers. His brothers resented him for his place in the family and their father’s love for him.

Sibling rivalry is a real aspect of family life with more than one child. Some families never experience sibling rivalry while others struggle with sibling rivalry until well into adulthood. Brothers and sister will fight and struggle for their place in the family and will express jealousy amidst the many different relationships in the family.

There are many different reasons why children will become jealous or competitive with each other. Children may feel they are getting unequal attention or responses from the parents. Some children may feel that their place is the family has been uprooted by a new child and are trying to regain the status of “best” child again. This is particularly true when a second child is born or adopted into the family and the now oldest child has been an only child for several years.

As we see in Genesis 37, Joseph does not really help the issues of sibling rivalry when he tells his brothers he has dreamed of them bowing down to him. When there is sibling rivalry in a family, one child may actually incite the jealous feelings toward themselves. Joseph really did not understand why his brothers were so jealous and angry with him.

Jealousy and competition between brothers and sisters can be expressed in a variety of ways. Some children will flaunt their successes in the other child’s face. Sometimes the jealousy is seen in how a child may continuously report to the parents what happens in the family, even being a “tattletale.”

How can parents help sibling rivalry? This is a difficult question to answer; but let’s look at Jacob and his sons. Jacob should have made an effort not to play favorites between children, something he was very good at. He presented Joseph with a coat with sleeves that meant that Joseph would not work as hard as his brothers. Jacob also compared his children to each other. Jacob would have witnessed better relationships between his sons if they had been given the opportunity to be themselves and to grow in their own individuality. Finally, Jacob could have made time for and an effort to have a relationship with each of his sons. When children have an individual relationship with their parents they are not fighting for time or attention.

The story of Jacob and Joseph cannot be rewritten. We are told that in the end, Joseph does forgive his brothers for the way he was sold into slavery. Yet the reasons for jealousy and competition have not gone away. Families who struggle with children who fight, express jealousy and compete should continually practice making sure everyone one in the family has a special place in the family.

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