Striving For
Even Parenting

If you have more than one child of speaking age, you've likely heard the refrain, "It's not fair!" What is not "fair" is likely immaterial. Your child (or children) perceive it and declare it so. You try to be fair, I'm sure. I try. But given that every child's personality is different and situations vary, is it possible to be exactly fair? Unless we're talking about the exact same candy bar in the checkout at the grocery store, or some similar circumstance, I think being precisely fair is impossible.

Angry Siblings

Growing up, "fair" was a big issue in our house. My siblings were constantly declaring that what they received or didn't receive compared to what the others in the family did or didn't receive wasn't "fair." I was as quick to declare fairness or unfairness as my siblings. When I think about it now, I think what a whining mess we were to our parent's ears. Yuck.

Generally fair

The thing is, my parents did the best they could by each of us, given our different personalities, circumstances and chain of events. It's the same thing I try to do for my kids today. Is it precisely fair? Not at all - but I think it is generally fair for each and all of my kids given their varying ages, developmental stages, specific circumstances, and so on. Specific circumstances drive different actions, "fair" or not.

We are not favoring one child over the other. No way. I don't even know how we would do that! We work hard to give each child what they need as individuals as it fits into the larger family dynamic. One child's lessons might cost more than another child's, but the latter child's lessons might require more of a time commitment than the first child's, so how do you define fair? Same cost? Same time commitment? It seems like no matter how you slice it, one side will have more than the other on some aspect. Better to toss the whole idea of "fair" out the window, I think, and communicate attention to appropriate individual need.

This isn't to say that I don't think about fairness. I do try to make sure that each of the kids experience me "sticking up" for each of them on a somewhat regular basis, and that if there's a major family meltdown that consequences happen for everyone. But is it exactly fair? Nope.

Guess what? Life isn't fair, either.

It's a hard fact that life can be very unfair. The wide world is a wonderful yet often unforgiving place. In the safety and security of our family is, I think, the best place for kids to learn about fairness - or unfairness, as the case may be. When my kids come at me with, "It's not fair!" I'm likely to say, "No, it's not exactly fair." Then I try to communicate with them that while not exactly "fair," that there is some level of balance I am trying to achieve. Some such efforts are better than others.

The fairness issue, given my own childhood baggage, is something I worry about - even as I know it's impossible to achieve. Better, I think, to think of and communicate fairness as a relative rather than an absolute and give kids tools to interpret fairness or unfairness according to circumstance rather than according to a fixed scale. And with all that, and with any luck, my kids with know that we love them all unconditionally - and that's better than "fair" any day.

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Comments

Comments on "Is fair parenting a myth?"

NP July 24, 2009 | 8:22 AM

When my kids have badgered me about being fair, I told them I treat them (overall) equally, but not all the same. Or else, I explained, boys would be getting dresses, video game fans would be getting horseback riding gear, and babies would get cameras. LOL

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