Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Vayeshev 75 - Favoritism

Jacob-Ya'akov develops a special relationship with Joseph- Yoseif and invests a lot of time learning with him and passing onto him his spiritual heritage. Yoseif's brothers see this relationship alienate their father's love for them and feel that their spiritual futures are being threatened. Only one son succeeded Abraham and Isaac and it seemed that they were going to be excluded from the family. Ya'akov gave Yoseif a coat of many colors symbolizing royalty and leadership, a recognition of Yoseif's potential and talent and also to encourage the other brothers to work on themselves. This was supposed to be a form of constructive competition – kin'at soferim, but was viewed  by the brothers as   favoritism. This caused discord, hate and jealousy. The brothers sold Yoseif into slavery. They  felt fully justified in taking this step to protect their spiritual worlds and future..  Because of this, the Sages warn parents not to show favoritism between kids . This  applies even when it comes to sharing inheritance, one needs  to treat kids equally and fairly. Even a so-called ' bad' child  should get the same inheritance as a 'good' child.  The consequence of this favoritism was the exile and bondage in Egypt. If not for the sale of Yoseif, the exile which started from the birth of Isaac- Yitzchak would have played itself out many more years in the land of Canaan and only  the last generation would spend the exile in Egypt.

When we talk about favoritism and possible sibling rivalry, we need to note that we are dealing with the perceptions of children. Only when kids become parents themselves, they will appreciate, like a candle a parent can light up a child with love and this does not detract from their ability to love other kids. The problem is how we love children. Traditional parenting encourages parents to show more love, warmth and enthusiasm when kids behave themselves and are successful in school, on the sports-field, socially etc and withdraw the love and attention when they behave badly or are unsuccessful. Love is seen to be something to be earned and can 'leverage ' good behavior.  Teachers and some parents go a step further – they think that if David sees that Josh is being praised for good behavior and high tests scores, this will encourage David to behave well and work hard for tests.  What really happens is the challenging kid feels less loved and jealous of his brother.  It is the challenging kids, the trouble makers, the unsuccessful kids who need more attention and love. They need  to be reassured that they are loved and accepted for who they are and not what they do.

Sometimes it is the good and easy going child that needs more attention and love than what they are getting at the present time. Some kids, especially kids with challenges require more 'maintenance ' and time to meet their needs. These kids are usually challenged in the areas of flexibility, frustration tolerance and adaptability so the rules are different, expectations are lowered and fewer demands are placed on the child.  We can explain that we treat kids differently, but fairly. Fairly does not mean equally, it means that every kid's needs and concerns are being addressed and met. A kid will understand that his brother will need extra help with maths or English. In the same way we can explain that he needs help  with the skills needed for ' behavior' , frustration tolerance , anxiety etc. The focus however must be on hearing and listening to the concerns of the ' easy child' , addressing these concerns, making sure he has good friends and trying to compensate him in other ways to show you understand that it is not easy for him. The social life of a family can be very much compromised by a challenging kid and cause a lot of frustration for the other siblings.

When a kid feels frustrated about ' perceived ' favoritism it is often more about the kid than the way the parent is treating her kids. We need to start by asking – why does he feel that way, are there are needs or concerns that are not being addressed.?  It is hard for a parent to explain this, but some kids are more assertive in getting their needs met, has a better relationship with the parents, and sometimes for eg a married kid with or without kids may need more use of the family car, than a single kid.  Single kids feel that a  married kid has in a sense  left the family. Lack of fulfillment or frustrations in other areas may cause a kid to feel sorry for themselves , so they seem to be focused more on how much they are ' receiving ' and less on how much they are ' giving'.'

Kids that become jealous of siblings and blame parents can find them in a place that works against them. Even if the claims are true, blaming parents or being jealous of other siblings will just get in the way of effectively dealing with the situation... Accepting the reality liberates one from negative feelings and allows one to take responsibility for one's life and access the help needed. In any case our perceptions of reality are often flawed and reality changes. If Joseph's brothers would have accepted the reality, they would have been free of anger and jealousy and been in a position not to fight reality but to create a new reality.

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