Life isn’t fair it never has been. How we deal with life is what matters. Our children are given to us for a short time and our job is to train them in the ways of the world. One of those lessons for all of us as parents will be that: Life isn’t fair. If we try to make things fair or feel guilty when our kids yell at us “That isn’t fair” and second guess ourselves with “Was I being fair? Or was that unfair?” We run the risk of trying to give our kids the misimpression that life is supposed to be fair. It’s not. It never will be. It’s how we react to fair or unfair that shows our character and allows us to be human and unique.
What would be better to impress on our children would be that fairness means everyone gets the things they need, not that everyone gets the same things.
There seem to be a few areas which trigger the “It’s not fair!” alarm on a regular basis in our kids:
- Between Siblings
An older sibling gets to stay out late while the younger must stay home with mom and dad. “It’s not fair!”
Or how about a younger sibling gets to do something that an older sibling was forbidden to do at same age. One friend of mine remembers she wasn’t allowed to shave her legs until she was in 9th grade but her younger sister was allowed to in 7th. “It’s not fair!” I remember my little sister got to pierce her ears at 14 when sisters and I had to wait until 16. That was so unfair!
- Between classmates/school/outside of home
Someone wins a prize, gets the good teacher, is more popular
- Between kids and parents
Parents having phones or computers and not kids
Parents getting to have access to the Wi-Fi all the time but the kids accounts are shut off at 8pm
- Between kids and the world
Some kids don’t have enough money to live
There is pollution and poverty and injustice and climate problems
Most of that is just not fair at all.
What can you do as a parent?
- Allow for emotions and disappointment. We want to practice empathy with them. “Wow, I know it’s hard not to get invited to a party when your brother does. That makes you so sad. I’m sorry.” Or, “Gee, your best friend just make the All-Stars baseball team and you didn’t. That’s so sad. I’m sorry.” There’s no need to sugar coat it, just let it be there. Let them know they are still loved despite a disappointment. My kombucha mom needs to just say, “Yeah, it’s hard when mom gets something that you don’t. So sorry about that.”
- Some of us will need to go Brain Dead so that we don’t get sucked into an argument after giving empathy. You just stay silent and say short phrases like “I knowwwww….” Or “Nice try….”
- Help them have empathy for others who aren’t as fortunate. This is hard to teach them at times. I know it probably took me until I was in college that I was able realize that I could cheer on my siblings instead of being disappointed that I didn’t get to do something. We need to help them cheer for each other, not just compete.
- Love them no matter what, teach them they are unique and although life isn’t always fair, they are loved and amazing in unique ways
- Avoid labeling and comparing your kids to each other, even positive labels as they can create a level of unfairness that you can’t even detect. When parents say: “Why can’t you behave like your brother?” Or, “Why are you so messy all the time, why can’t you be neat like your sister?” Or any of the thousands of comparisons we can make about our unique children. Your kids might be messy or have trouble staying at the table but that’s on them, not on their siblings.
- Let them know it’s OK to express their emotions. (God gave us these emotions and we shouldn’t be ashamed to express them. You can be angry, but you cannot take your anger out on others. You can cry but you cannot dwell in self-pity. Be happy but do not be boastful.)
- Encourage them to always give praise whether they are on the upside or the downside. (I made the All Stars, but my brother didn’t. I thought for sure he would have made it, he was awesome at tryouts) or (Congrats bro, I’m bummed I didn’t make it but I’m glad one of us did!)
- Help them to continue on with life. (Embrace the now! Enjoy the adventure and/or create new ones.)
- Have them lead by Example. (People will remember how you act when disappointments or victories happen. Do it with grace and humility.)
- Support them in learning from this opportunity. (Don’t look at this opportunity as if you’ve failed. The only failure you will have is if you give up!)
For those of you who have two or more kids I’d love to suggest an experiment that’s based on a second-grade teacher’s innovative lesson on fairness. Shawna Peryea from the blog Caffeinated and Creative created this lesson that I’ll call the BandAid Experiment:
- First, make up a bunch of note cards with medical ailments each on a separate card
- Paper cut, skinned knee, broken leg, appendix burst, fever, car accident with a head injury, bee sting, whatever else you’d like
- Give everyone in your family an ailment card or maybe two or three depending on your family size
- Have each person describe their ailments and discuss the degree of severity of each
- Then hand out Band-Aids to each person, just the small 1-inch kind
- Go around the table and ask if the Band-Aid will fix their ailment, make special note of the ones that will NOT be fixed with a Band-Aid
- As you finish the round ask if it’s fair that everyone got a Band-Aid. Is that what they’d want? Ask them each what they’d want if the Band-aid didn’t help them. Was it more or less?
- The point is to teach that just because everyone got a band aid and it seemed fair, it didn’t help everyone. What would actually be fair is if the ailments were actually cured. Each person is unique, just like ailments. We need different things but want to end up at the same place feeling loved and supported for the unique people we are. You can also modify this to give everyone but one child a band aid and discuss how they felt not receiving one.
The human experience isn’t about fairness. It’s about uniqueness.
It isn’t about making things equal all the time, but it’s about making them beautiful despite the fact that they aren’t equal. It isn’t about comparing what we have to what someone else has, but instead, it’s about finding a way to be happy with what life has given each of us: Our own unique experience to grow from.
So, next time your child stomps their feet at you to declare, “It’s not fair!” sit them down and say, “You’re absolutely right. It’s NOT fair.
But, that doesn’t mean I don’t love you.
It just means that you are going to learn different things than other kids at different times.
Adelle Gabrielson wrote so eloquently about teaching fairness to our kids on her blog An Illuminated Life. It’s one of those philosophical parenting quotes that I want to memorize:
This is not a lesson I want you to learn after you’ve left the shelter of my home and heart, out in the big world all alone. The world will hurt you, and if you expect it to be fair, you will suffer more. Don’t expect fairness, do not seek it. Instead, seek grace. Be grateful when you are on the upside, be patient when you are on the down, be compassionate and generous when you see others who deserve more but have less.
I hope you’ve gained some perspective to get a handle around the “It’s not fair!” issues with your kids. Personally, I think empathy and patience are probably the biggest helpers. Along with reminding ourselves that our job as parents isn’t to make life fair all the time.
If you need help and encouragement, feel free to contact me. My mission, as most of you know, is to help parents feel supported and encouraged. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or join my Facebook Group, Parenting Decoded and let me know how I can help you and your family. There is a transcript available of this podcast that is listed in the podcast notes in case you need it. I’m also available for one-on-one coaching.