No parent will consciously own up to the fact that favouritism is operative within some families. One of the unwritten norms of society is the attachment of mothers to their sons and fathers to their daughters. But when parents go overboard with their preferences, there is bound to be discord within the home. Favoured children are spoilt children. Parents who indulge in favouritism do so at the risk of undermining the very foundation of the family.
“If the family fails, then all other institutions of society will fail…..” says Dr. Kenneth Chafin a theologian.
The biblical story of Rebekah who forced her favourite son to deceive his blind father and steal his brother Esau’s blessing is a good example of how favouritism of parents ruined family relationships, stirred up enmity between siblings, and exiled Jacob from his family for many years.
However, Jacob didn’t learn from his parents’ mistakes, but favoured Joseph among all his other sons and gave him a special gift of a beautiful coat of many colours. Jealousy and anger raged against Joseph, and the brothers sold him to some merchants, then lied to their father that he had been devoured by a wild animal.
The emotional environment within the home especially in the early formative years of children has a marked effect on the behaviour of the favoured child as well as one the one who feels rejected.
Reasons for Parental Favouritism:
• Over attachment of mothers to their sons and fathers to their daughters. A father tends to be overprotective of his daughter, and the male child feels rejected. Similarly, when a mother dotes on her son, the daughter feels betrayed by the very person who must love her.
• Gender discrimination: In many Asian countries and cultures, the son is given pride of place within the family vis-à-vis nutrition, education and health care. The girl’s needs are not fully met. She is often malnourished and suffers from ill health. Her education is not of much importance. She is made to stay at home to help with the chores and care for her other siblings.
• Appearance: Parents are sometimes subconsciously biased in favour of the healthy, good looking child. The ugly child feels unwanted and insecure.
• Health: A disabled child may receive less attention than the robust sibling. In some cases, the handicapped child takes up all of the mother’s time, while the healthy child is left to fend for himself.
• Intelligence: A clever child is praised and pampered. But the average child does not receive the encouragement he requires.
Favouritism is a form of child abuse. This is a type of misguided love and makes for bad parenting.
Effect of Favouritism on the pampered child:
– Overindulgence: This stunts the personality of the child. He gets used to instant gratification of his needs, and therefore lacks motivation to develop his own faculties. When his demands are not met immediately, his frustration levels increase. He may suffer from attention deficit and will not complete whatever task he starts. He is poor in problem solving. He grows into an adult who is self centred, greedy and always complaining when things don’t go his way. A pampered child is insecure when left to his own devices, and suffers from poor self esteem.
– Privilege: Because he is favoured more than other siblings, he becomes a bully and lords it over the others.
Effects of Favouritism on the unfavoured child:
– Conduct Disorders such as telling tales about the pampered child, causing him injury or lying. He indulges in anti-social behaviour to attract parental attention.
– Inferiority Complex because of parental rejection verbally or non-verbally through indifference.
– Lack of self confidence and self esteem.
Sometimes these signs may not be detected until adolescence. Jealousy, violence, drug or alcohol abuse or even attempts at suicide are known to occur.
Lessons for parents:
– Parents should learn to respect the personhood of every child. All must be treated and loved equally. The home should provide a loving, caring and stimulating environment.
– Discipline is an important part of nurture. Unless parents are good role models, discipline will not be effective. Moral and spiritual values should form the basis of discipline.
– No preferential treatment should be given to one particular child. Parents should foster a spirit of caring and sharing among siblings.
– Unhealthy comparisons breed rivalry. This increases the natural jealousy that exists in children. Each child has his own special gifts. So healthy competition should be encouraged.
– Children should know that obedience is expected from them. They must also be taught to take responsibility for their actions. If asked to mediate in their quarrels, parents must be fair and just.
– Children should be encouraged to verbalize their feelings. Parents will then become aware of their own hurtful actions.
Parenting is a responsibility. Irrespective of attributes like physical attractiveness, intelligence, beauty or special skills, a child should be confident of his worth in the eyes of his parents. This can happen only when his physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs are met. Favouring one child over another will prove detrimental to their holistic development and will sow seeds of discord within the family.