No, life is not fair

Jul 19, 2011 at 1:20 p.m. ET

The other day, I overheard my five-year-old son tell my seven-year-old daughter that, “Life is not fair.” While the heated conversation was fueled by a toy-related dispute, I was nonetheless proud of his ability to retain this very important message. No, life is not fair.


Like most parents, I sometimes question whether my kids are really listening to topics such a life's fairness -- or lack thereof. Of course, I know they hear me, but that doesn't mean the message is getting through.

On the surface, it's a pretty clear-cut concept to grasp, but there's just something about human nature that wants to resist this truth. There's a pervasive mystique behind fairness that makes us believe that once it's obtained, life will somehow reach its apex. But consider the fact that fairness is essentially a liquid theory -- always dependant upon what someone else has or doesn't have at any given time.

Get the message?

I've been thinking lately about why this message is so important to me. Why am I hell-bent on raising kids who don't expect fairness in life? Fairness brings with it an expectation that you are either owed something or you owe something to somebody else. It requires that you measure your life against another's. While you may end up on the shiny side of that equation every now and then, for the most part, striving to achieve some sort of universal balance can only lead to disappointment. No parent wants that for their children.

Reality bites

If my kids are right, I'm apparently the only one telling them about life's great unfairness. So be it. My hope is that they eventually appreciate the fact that each life has a unique amount of blessing and a unique amount of pain. The fruit we see in our lives is the direct result of our own choices and actions.

I want them to realize that nobody else is responsible for filling up the vessels that we'd like to be fuller. Basically, life is only fair to the extent that equality evades us all. Life has no power to disappoint when you've grasped this message.

Parenting mantra

I'll admit, the words "life is not fair" come out of my mouth way more than they probably should. I really like saying it, probably because I really believe it. Every parent is entitled to a mantra, right? My dad's was, "I'm not here to be your friend."

When I was a child, I thought that was a pretty harsh message. Of course, today, I totally understand it. Of all the lessons he taught me growing up, the clear (and important) distinction between a parent and a friend is always at the forefront of my mind. Perhaps my kids will grow to embrace my wisdom someday.

My dad claimed his parenting mantra and I'm claiming mine. What's yours?

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