Monday, March 4, 2013


I'm not trying to mold and shape my children into being the idealized people that I would like them to be.  I am trying to see them as the good people that they are, individually, and help them navigate their interactions and reactions, their emotions and environment.  This includes everything from their education and interests, their diet and health, to their choices and celebrations.  

I'm sure that every parent that has more than one child has spent some time thinking about the notion of fairness.  How do we navigate being fair to our children, or helping them be fair to each other?  What does that mean?  Merriam-Webster online dictionary has 11 separate definitions of fair, from (1) pleasing to the eye or mind especially because of fresh, charming or flawless quality to (11) being such to the utmost: utter.   

6a : marked by impartiality and honesty : free from self-interest, prejudice, or favoritism <a very fair person to do business with>

(1) : conforming with the established rules : allowed (2) :consonant with merit or importance : due <a fair share>
c : open to legitimate pursuit, attack, or ridicule <fair game>

I guess 6a is closest to what I'm thinking about, occasionally 6b(2); certainly not 6b(1) or 6c.  I don't look at fairness (as pertains to my children, specifically) as arbitrary equal-ness (same dollar amount spent, same minutes of attention, same learning at the same ages).  I like to meet each individual personality where they are at and interact with them from there, as well as making sure that we as a team (as a family) are taking everyone into account when decisions need to be made.

This year, Sylvia's big birthday celebration was inviting another family to share the day with us at an indoor amusement park.  We ended up being there for 7 hours, including a long lunch at an attached restaurant that delivered food by train on tracks around the tables.

If I only engaged my girls in activities that were in line with my aesthetics and preferences, some of my girls would feel more supported by me than others.  If I spent the exact same amount per birthday, per child, we would be much more limited.  We don't always have the financial resources for elaborate parties and gifts.

Maybe I don't love indoor amusement parks, but Sylvia does.  Camille and Ayla found plenty to be happy about as well.  Even though I was prepared to take them out of there for breaks if they felt overwhelmed, they not only didn't need that, but could have stayed longer.

When my kids were younger, and my parenting was more conventional, I would try to teach concepts like fairness and sharing, by enforcing the outcomes of fairness and sharing (though that's not how I thought of it at the time).

If your sister wants the toy and you've had it for 5 minutes, you need to let her play with it for 5 minutes.  When it's your birthday, you get the presents and the attention; when it's her birthday, she gets the presents and attention.  See?  It's fair.

Now, my concepts are much more fluid, and any idea of 'teaching fairness' has been replaced by living life by the principles of respect and generosity, and encouraging the same in my children, as they are ready for it.  

I know that's a new, special toy to you.  You don't have to share it if you're not ready.  I'll help your sister get interested in something else, and you can both be happy.

'Making' a child share (besides, perhaps, teaching them to be even more reluctant to share), doesn't allow room for the child to choose to share.  I have seen each of my girls, as they mature and have lots of room for choices, become more generous, more sharing, and more able to negotiate thoughtfully when arbitrary sharing isn't the best choice.

Camille braved the suspended ropes course.

Sylvia climbed up to the course and decided, "My body doesn't want to do this."

My good friend and I decided to give it a go and found it both exhilarating and terrifying.  Even if you know you can't fall farther than your harness allows, being up that high causes a serious adrenaline rush. 

Papa was a natural.

Our girls ranged from 2 to 13 and everyone had a good time!

The more that I am generous with my time, attention, and resources, the more my children learn to be generous, rather than tallying up some imaginary 'points' to see how fair it all is.  Life has plenty of challenging opportunities to learn these concepts, both within and outside of the family.  As parents, we don't need to make it harder than it already is.  

Living life with a focus on respect, kindness, joy and gratitude, is, in my opinion, the best way for children to learn how to navigate notions of fairness.

I have heard parents say, time and again, that they need to teach their kids that "life isn't fair".  Is there any doubt they will learn this?  One look at the division of resources, both in the community and in the world, will assure them of this.  If we navigate this with an eye to securing our own, or with an effort to living generously and thoughtfully, what will they learn then?


  1. What a great, thought-provoking post.

    First up - I want to move to where you live. That indoor play thingy looks a-mah-zing!

    Fair is never equal, is it?

    And we don't need to "teach" kids that life isn't fair, or about bullying, or how to get up early every day to grind out a living doing a soul-less job. Nah - we don't have to teach them that :-)

  2. Ingi, I want you to move to where I live, too! We could rock the ropes course together ;)

  3. Thank you for writing this. I have had a hard week this week dealing with a challenge to my parenting and this post really resonates with me. I strive to be fair too and sometimes I know I don't manage it very well.

  4. We talk a lot about contentedness (not sure that is a real word). Sometimes we are prone to looking for things to be unhappy about. At our house, we try to focus on the blessings and not what is fair.

  5. Phew. I got vertigo just from the pics.

    I agree so much with this:
    "As parents, we don't need to make it harder than it already is."

    But I don't always manage to remember it.
    Thanks for the reminder.

  6. I was just going to write a post about Sylvia's b-day celebration, but it turned into something else :). I'm glad I went with it, and that it resonates with some of you out there. Sustainablemum, I hope your week improves! Warm wishes . . .

  7. Thanks Nikole :) This was awesome for those of us raising multiple kids with different personalities. It reminded me of something else I read recently and that is something I know you've talked about before: When your child acts out or "goes against" your direction it is not because they are going against "you", rather they are forging their own path. I must remember not to take this friction personally! I'll use your ideas on fairness from now on...makes total sense, thanks again for pointing it out :)


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