Fair doesn’t mean equal

| Bill and Monica Dodds | March 9, 2012 | 0 Comments

It can seem to most parents that the first complete sentence their little darling says is “That’s not fair!”

It’s a cry moms and dads hear early and often and, despite knowing that life is not fair, they may attempt to make their children’s lives equal.

But they can’t.

You can’t.

It can help to remind yourself, at a calm time before you’re in the next thick of a “discussion” on fairness and unfairness, that just as each of your children is unique, so are his or her needs and abilities.

Yes, you love them. Yes, you want what’s best for them. While love is immeasurable, giving “what’s best for him and what’s best for her” can seem different when placed side by side.

How children love to place those actions, those decisions — your actions, your decisions — side by side. It’s not too tough to point out that your 10-year-old gets two cookies for dessert but your 5-year-old gets one. (Two are one too many for a child that size.)

It’s tougher, a lot tougher, if an older sister got her driver’s license when she was 16 and now, as a younger brother approaches that age, you know he’s not ready to handle that kind of responsibility.

Just as our heavenly Father doesn’t give each of us identical strengths, talents, and gifts, a parent has to recognize that an individual child’s strengths, talents, and gifts — and an individual child’s needs — can be a lot different from his or her siblings.

That can be pretty obvious if one of your children has special needs. If, because of a mental, physical, or emotional concern, he or she needs more of your time, energy, and sometimes even family finances, it’s easier to grasp.

The daughter who does well in school needs you to be nearby if she has a question about homework but can finish assignments quickly, easily, and almost independently. The daughter who has a learning disability needs you by her side at the kitchen table, night after night, for an hour or more.

Not equal, but fair.

Or, another example: you want your children to eat nutritiously and you pay attention to their diets but have to be more vigilant when it comes to the one who has a food allergy.

Again, not equal, but fair. And more than fair, it’s right.

Making your children’s lives equal wouldn’t be fair — or right. Just as treating one child differently from the other just because of personal preferences — one is easier to get along with while the other is more challenging, for example, wouldn’t be fair or correct.

What’s a parent to do?

Here are two suggestions:

First, during a calm time, talk to your child about why a sibling needs more of your time, attention, or part of the household budget. Explain why, while one of their siblings may receive a privilege at a particular age, (that driver’s license or later curfew), doesn’t mean the younger ones will automatically be given it when they reach that age.

Second, pay attention to each child, making sure to spend quality time with each. It can be too easy to overlook the quiet, dependable child when the other sibling is often causing so much parental concern.

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Category: Your Family