“It’s not fair” is a common childhood complaint. Parents hear it all the time.
“How come I didn’t get any? It’s not fair.”
“He got more than I did. It’s not fair.”
“You let her stay up later. It’s not fair.”
How do you respond when your child tells you, “It’s not fair?” Do you race around attempting to make sure everything is perceived as fair? Are you on guard to make sure that love, gifts, attention and privileges are doled out evenly in your family? If so, you might be doing your children a disservice. Here’s why.
When your children use “it’s not fair” language, they are assuming the victim stance. They are activating a core belief that life should be fair at all times, and when it isn’t, they feel unjustly treated.
In reality, life is not fair. Two people can be speeding down the highway and only one gets a ticket. Two people can be exposed to the same virus and only one gets sick. The reality of life is that fairness is not applied to everyone at all times. Life simply doesn’t unfold that way. To allow our children to expect otherwise is to set them up for reoccurring disappointment and frustration.
The “it’s not fair” cry is an outgrowth of a faulty assumption that all children should be treated equally. If you buy into that myth, you set yourself up for constant complaints and hassles.
Please do not attempt to be equal and fair to all your children at all times. If you do, you are setting yourself up for manipulation. Once children know that you’re trying to be fair and attempting to set things up so everything looks even, they can then use your positive intention to plead their case, manipulate you and encourage you to feel guilty.
Trying to make things equal for children will cause a lot of pain for everyone involved. Even if you manage to parcel everything out in equal portions, those portions still won’t look equal through the eyes of your children.
Aim for equity rather than for equality. Equity means that all children have comparable opportunities to be loved and appreciated and to have their needs met. Equity does not mean that all children are treated the same way. As you know, no two children are the same, and there’s no reasonable rationale for treating them as if they were.
For example, your older child may wear glasses, while your younger child does not. If you treated them the same, both would have to wear glasses. But the youngest one doesn’t need glasses and the older one does.
Your youngest child, however, does need braces, while the other one’s teeth are perfectly straight. So the youngest child gets braces. The older gets glasses. The only thing you need to guarantee your children is that they will each have opportunities to get their needs met.
Recently, a father we know bought his daughter a volleyball net, poles and a ball. He brought nothing home for his son.
His daughter asked, “What do I get these for?”
“Since you’re going to volleyball camp and trying to make the varsity team this year, I thought you might need them,” her father replied.
“What did you get Austin?”
“Austin isn’t trying to make the varsity. Later, when he needs something, he’ll get it. Different people have different needs. Right now it seems like you needed these.”
Next time you hear “that’s not fair,” explain to your children that you’re not attempting to treat them equally. Tell them, “Different people have different needs.” Say, “I address needs. I don’t try to be fair or make things even. Tell me what you need, and we’ll talk about seeing if we can make it happen for you.”
Fair means more than everyone doing the same thing the same way at the same time. Fair means everyone getting what they need when they need it.