Treating equal-ish children unequally - is favortism sinful?

I’m having a hard time finding anything in Scripture or the teachings of the Church that says giving unfairly is sinful.

For example: if I had two children who were twins and I liked the personality of one over the other but neither were “bad/sinful” children - would it be sinful for me to lavish one child with gifts and leave the other without anything on Christmas? On Birthdays? On College Tuition? With an inheritance?

My gut tells me this would be terribly wrong (abusive favoritism) of me as a parent to do this - but I don’t see anywhere in scripture that this type of “abusive”(?) behavior would be wrong.


“Train the young in the way they should go.” Proverbs 22:6. The child that is less pleasing needs to be corrected, for sure, but should not be treated unlovingly.

“Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.” Matthew 7:12. Place yourself in the heart of the second child to see the hurt you would be causing were you to treat the child unfairly by withholding from him the favor you lavish on his brother.

These would apply in most of the instances described (birthdays, Christmas etc.), but the direction of an inheritance is often a reward for fidelity or helpfulness to the testator, and not the same as the other examples, in my opinion. However, I often see the testator’s authority unwisely or vindictively applied. Better to repair relationships here on Earth while there is still time if that’s what this is about.

Do you favor one child over another, or do you not have children?
Read the story of the Prodigal son. It’s not about what you give, it’s about loving your children.
A parent loves their children.
It would be considered cruel to only gift one twin at their birthday no? Cruelty is sinful.
And how would your child develop a personality that you didn’t care for if you were actively forming them? Wouldn’t they at least learn to curb undesirable behaviors? We’re talking children right? Not adult gown-ups?
“Equalish”. That made me laugh. It’s not a question of equality at all. Not even for twins. Everyone is a unique child of God, deserving of love, and loving parents. People should not equate love with material gifts. Those of us who cannot lavish our children with gifts don’t love them less. Our love manifests itself in many ways. I certainly love both my daughters, tremendously. One more than the other? As a parent I don’t even think in those terms.
It’s not a contest. :shrug:

The Bible does not explicitly condemn every single possible immoral action. That doesn’t mean something is not wrong.

I cannot imagine how a parent could act that way towards their children. And I do have to treat my children differently (because one has special needs). So one will get into trouble for doing things that the other does on a regular basis without getting into trouble. But lavishing gifts on one while ignoring the other? Unthinkable.

This is the second thread you have on “fair” inheritance. There simply is no Church teaching on how a person should distribute their assets at their death. It is a prudential matter and one of civil law. Custom and culture may also play a role.

The teachings of the Church center around living in a holy manner in this life and is not bothered with those things of this world that we will leave behind when we die. Assets are not things of faith and morals, nor is their distribution, other than as pertains to acting charitably to the less fortunate.

Yes, actually the somewhat related thread spawned this question for me.

Favoritism in parents (not just in gift giving, though that is the easiest to grasp) is a common fault - though not likely in this Christian forum - for most parents here I’m thinking intentional favoritism in a sinful sense is unthinkable. :slight_smile:

However, in my research I find very little documentation about this common abuse.

Is there any Catholic or Scriptural Documentation that warns parents of the sinfulness of favoritism? (I might create a new thread with this specific question).

The only hint of favoritism that I see in Scripture is possibly Joseph’s colored coat and there were some serious temporal problems as a consequence to Jacob’s favor for Joseph… but that’s all I can find and even that may not be a true sinful type of favortism.

Any other documentation out there for this common problem?

What I told my children was I love them equally, but differently, as they are different people.

I get them different gifts at Christmas, but about the same number and total spending amount.

And there is that bit in the Bible that says not to aggravate one’s children…

The “sinfulness” of any of these scenarios (and the neither the Bible nor the Church addresses every single aspect of life or every possible scenario) is the motive and the lack of love in the scenario. When we love our fellow man, we desire them to be content, thrive, and at peace. Any action that brings disharmony is sinful. You’re not going to find a page to justify your actions of they involve greed, jealousy, or envy or anything else that motivates poor behavior, but the commandments and the lessons of the Bible give us guidelines to follow.
Favoritism is not so much loving one person more as in not loving the other person enough.

Thanks for sharing your beautiful approach in parenthood. Ah yes, this quote, I believe:

Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.- Colossians 3:21, Ephesians 6:4

If this were an uncommon or unique type of scenario, it would obviously be unlikely that this would be addressed in Scripture or Church Teachings.

Many common sins have been discussed to tremendous length and on topics that might not be as prevalent in society.

Sinful parental favoritism is not uncommon and can have a tremendous multi-generational impact depending upon the scope and severity of this type of abuse. Not only is it a common story topic, but it is a common problem somewhere in most people’s extended families (hopefully none of you in the audience have experienced it).

So I have a hope that somewhere it is directly addressed in Church Teachings… but maybe not.

If anyone knows of any other Scriptural or Church teachings on this topic, that would be much appreciated. And thank you for your kindness in advance.

Thank you for posting this :slight_smile: --I didn’t have time to look it up.

The Bible has stories of twins who were treated differently. See the story of Jacob and Esau. The favorite first born was treated well, but still gave away his birthright to his younger twin for a bowl of food. The younger twin tricked his blind father into giving him the blessing that would have gone to the first born son.

Inheritance rights vary by culture. In days-of-old, first born males got more than the rest of their siblings, assuming the first born male lived past their fathers. It sounds weird to our culture’s notion of fairness, I know, but birth order is still how England determines who is reigning monarch.

The Bible also tells stories of favoritism displayed by a parent–the same twin, Jacob mentioned above. See the story of Joseph, (which was made into a Broadway musical.) Joseph wasn’t the first born, but he was Jacob’s favorite. Displaying favoritism caused jealousy and strife within his family. He was sold into slavery by his brothers, who told their father that Joseph died. It all worked out in the end, but favoritism did cause problems.

Favoritism displayed creates strife among siblings.

I think it shows poor judgment for a parent to display an obvious preference for one child over another. If, however, children know they are loved by their parents, then I don’t think it bothers them if, say, Mom gets along with better with brother or sister. Children tend to have a “favorite” parent, too, though this changes throughout childhood, and may have a “favorite” sibling. It is natural for this to happen, and does not necessarily mean that the others who are not the “favorite” are unloved or excluded.

I think purposeful exclusion is wrong, but that’s not the same thing as, say, sharing a hobby with one child that another child has no interest in.

Thank you all for lending your thoughts and insights into this question. After reading through the answers and studying this matter a little more, my personal take-away is thoughtless (as possibly Jacob was in giving Joseph the special coat) or cruel favoritism (a common theme in many stories and accounts of abusive parenting) in gift giving to one’s children can indeed be sinful when it provokes children’s sense of fairness and tempts the victim as well as the “favored” into the near occasion of several sins (greed, envy, anger for the gift but as well as for a parent’s love).

To help avoid such outcomes, it becomes important for the parent to practice “reasonable” fairness in gift-giving. And when gift giving can’t (or shouldn’t) be “equal”, a well founded reason should be provided to ensure that all parties can understand why, for example, Joseph received the colored coat.

Also in gift giving we can turn our eyes to the story of the prodigal son whose loving Father gave him an equal share though, clearly, he was not equal in virtue to his brother.

If gift giving to one’s children does indeed require careful consideration to avoid provocation, then, like other parental activities, it is subject to the following calls from our Church (from the Catechism):

2222 Parents must regard their children as children of God and respect them as human persons.

2223 Parents have a grave responsibility to give good example to their children.

2287 Anyone who uses the power at his disposal in such a way that it leads others to do wrong becomes guilty of scandal and responsible for the evil that he has directly or indirectly encouraged. “Temptations to sin are sure to come; but woe to him by whom they come!”

Really? I would think that “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers you do unto me” would just about cover it.

When you slight the other child, its just as if you’re slighting Jesus.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit