As parents watch their young children argue and fight with one another, they have a nagging worry that they might grow up and not like their siblings. Thankfully, in many of our families, the children learn to get along and grow up to love one another. The Bible lets us peer into one family in which this was not the case. Rather, there was deception and bitterness in the home. The father’s name was Jacob and his story is recorded in the book of Genesis. He fathered a large family through four different women, all of whom lived in his home at the same time! [Talk about a dysfunctional family!] Of the four women, he loved Rachel the most. She had trouble getting pregnant, so his first ten boys and one daughter were born by the other three. Finally, Rachel gave birth to his eleventh son and named him Joseph.
Jacob showed a great deal of favoritism toward Joseph, resulting in the other ten sons hating their brother. Their bitterness deepened to the point of planning to kill Joseph when they had him alone without their father. Instead of killing him, they decided to sell him to a passing caravan of slave-traders on their way to Egypt. Life as a slave was filled with great disappointments and injustices. But God ultimately orchestrated events to have Joseph elevated to a position of prominence by Pharaoh. Perhaps, like Joseph, you have faced major disappointments or injustices. Don’t give up on God. In time, He will weave them together into something good in your life as you continue to trust Him.
While Joseph’s story can give us a great deal of encouragement, let’s be sure not to follow Jacob’s mistakes. I realize that some of you parents have seen your worst fears come true. In spite of your efforts to give loving guidance, your adult children have grown to dislike each other. I’m certainly not trying to rub salt into your wounds. From Jacob’s blunders though, I want to make two suggestions for parents or grandparents who are still raising children. One consideration is negative, while the other is positive.
Do not compare. Some parents favor one child over another. They shower the one with praise for his or her accomplishments, be it athletics, grades, popularity, attractiveness or something else. All the while they overlook the strengths of the other child. This is obvious and very hurtful to the under-appreciated child. He or she develops a deep sense of insecurity and failure, and a growing bitterness toward their parents and their “perfect” sibling.
Celebrate their uniqueness. The Bible reveals in Psalm 139 that each of us is uniquely crafted by God in our mother’s womb. To some He fashioned a bubbly, outgoing personality. To others, He gave a quiet, contemplative personality. To some He gave musical abilities, others artistic interests, to others He gave leadership qualities, and to some He gave culinary or electrical talents. Some people are good at sports. Others are not. Which personality or ability is better? None are. That’s the point. Each has been designed by God in a one-of-a-kind manner. As parents, it is our job to help them discover how God made them and encourage them as they develop those gifts. As they learn to celebrate their unique gifting by God, they will grow into loving people without dragging the chains of bitterness wherever they go.
These two simple steps can help us to raise children who stay friends for life. Here’s a last suggestion for parents: Take some time to think through on the special way in which God designed each of your children and then share it with them!