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The Joseph Effect

I have been participating in a chronological bible reading plan since the beginning of the year. We are in Genesis and I have to confess, I want to scream at the founding fathers of Judaism. It is similar to, I imagine, viewers of the Bachelor/ette wanting to yell at choices those people make on screen. The patterns that continue being repeated to disastrous effects, baffle me. How could you not know that this will end badly??? 

The greatest problems that arose were due to favoritism. It caused so much harm and fracturing. The struggle to prevent favoritism is like many other difficulties. Avoiding the topic is tempting, but unhelpful. As parents there can be a tendency to align ourselves more with the child that shares our interests, wants to spend time with us or has a similar personality. It is important to fight against this tendency for peace within the family and the confidence of each of our children.


Typo? Nope. Each child is different. When we try to treat them the same, we can actually cause harm. They have different strengths, different weaknesses and different goals. In trying to treat everyone equally, their uniqueness is overlooked and they can actually feel more invisible. 

Notice how they are different. Make notes, keep tabs. One is an introvert. One loves dinosaurs. One is obsessed with shoes at the age of two. It means being intentional and observing your children for more than just obedience. It means getting to know who they are, more than what they will disclose verbally.

This is vital to loving them well and keeping favoritism at bay. When you recognize uniqueness and enjoy differences, you are more likely to value them for who they are and avoid assumptions. Assumptions can cause them to be placed in a one dimensional box that can result in unconscious favoritism.  

More than seeing their positive differences, notice their negative aspects. Not just negative. The negative aspects that push your buttons. One may trigger your frustration or anger more than the other. Understand that truth. Dissect the reality. Why do they bring out your impatience the most?

Don’t attempt to ignore these things. Be aware and in doing so, create a protective wall around your relationship. When we deny what we know to be true, especially about biases, we will act in hurtful ways.


In seeing their differences, lean into that reality. It can be helpful to identify their “love language”. The way they receive love is between “words of affirmation, acts of service, physical touch, gifts, or quality time” and it a significant item to know (Smalley, 1992). 

In knowing how they most feel loved, you can incorporate it into your relationship. If your son needs words of affirmation it can effect how you give encouragement, but also how you give consequences. For this child, words matter the most. If you tend to lash out in anger with words, pause. This is a good rule for all parenting, but one errant word can derail a child that thrives on words of affirmation. Know how your child best feels love. 

When you are shown the 100th tik tok video or the one millionth Pokemon card, you might lose your mind. However, in sharing those things with you, your child is trying to bring you into their world. It can be difficult to open up using words, but in a “show and tell” style relationship, they are wanting your presence. It might be boring. You might want to impart your parental discipline on the inventor of “baby shark”, but realize that engaging with them surrounding their interests, shows that who they are matters to you. But remember that one teen wanting to do make up tutorials with you, does not mean that your other teen will want the same things. Pay attention to what they might bring to your attention.


Notice how “button pushing” moments with your child might be due to sameness. The same flaw, the same sin pattern. Research has been clear that parents impact their children. What is passed down through nature, can impact behavior. You struggle with anxiety? It might present itself in your children. Depression? Might make an appearance. Eating disorder? Anger? Jealousy? All of the above.

Instead of descending into denial or a shame spiral, be authentic in a developmentally appropriate manner. I struggle with anger somedays. I get frustrated and want to yell and scream and blame. So does my son. He hits a table if he runs into it. Not a proud shining example of inherited traits. How do I handle it? Talk about it. 

When I get angry and have to calm down? I call attention to it. “See how Mommy took a deep breath there to calm down?” or sometimes “Mommy didn’t handle her frustration well right then, sorry I yelled.” It can be helpful to identify those struggles within myself and then remind him of those things when he struggles as well. Then we are a team fighting a struggle that I could be tempted to ostracize him over.

Every kid has something that is the “same” as you. It might be buried and hard to find, but find it. It can be a point of difficulty or a passion you share. When you see yourself in all of your children, it is harder to play favorites.

Favoritism is brutal. It can tear apart families. It can destroy marriages. It leaves destruction in its wake. Don’t pretend you are above the unconscious inequality. When you are intentional in preventing it, you can invest in greater confidence for your children and a stronger relationship between the children as well. It is uncomfortable to consider, but vital to address.   

Intentionally parenting,


Disclaimer: This post is not intended to be a replacement for counseling or medical services. The information on this site is intended for general and educational purposes only. Before taking action based on the information you find in this blog, we encourage you to consult with the appropriate professionals. The use or reliance on any information found on this site is solely at your own risk. You are welcome to contact us in response to this post. We will not provide online counseling services via our contact form. We encourage you to seek counseling services of your own if you are looking for more support, help, and advice. If you are in crisis or have a mental health emergency, please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.

5 Love Languages of Children: The Secret to Loving Children Effectively by Gary Chapman


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