Someone once said to me, “With four kids, it must be really hard to treat them all fairly.”
“Fair is where I go to eat funnel cake,” was my reply stolen (and adapted) from Jeff Foxworthy.
My kids love when I say this, as you can imagine. But, it’s true, this mama don’t play fair.
We all want the world to be fair. But it’s not. And I think that’s important for kids to learn. As I’ve told my kids a million times, “Life isn’t fair. But it is good. And you’re on the better side of unfair 99% of the time.” These wise words are stolen (and adapted) from my Aunt Cathy.
In our first world economy, unfair looks a lot like not getting a toy, having to go to bed at a decent hour, not eating ice cream for every meal.
So when my kids claim life is unfair, I go “there are children starving in Africa” mama on them. That phrase is poking fun at parents of the 90s, but it actually is very true (and I am not mocking Africa).
My kids have a very limited understanding of the world, mostly because their current cognitive stage of development makes it hard to grasp what it’s like for other children around the world…and because they aren’t well traveled. Even so, I try to instill in them a sense of global awareness.
Which includes reminding them (often) that their life may be unfair, it’s true…
– it’s unfair that they have clean drinking water
– it’s unfair that they have two parents who love them
– it’s unfair that they are receiving a good education
– it’s unfair that they’ve never known what it’s like to be hungry
(I actually do not allow them to say, “I’m starving” because even though I am well known for my dramatics, that phrase is nails on a chalkboard to me…because starvation is a very real global problem…and my kids aren’t starving.)
This is something I am passionate about (if you couldn’t tell), but I’ve actually derailed from my original point (which now feels very petty in comparison).
I do not treat my kids equal.
And I do not apologize for that.
I treat them all well, and I value each of them immensely. But they all have different needs and wants: nine-year old toys cost a lot more than three-year old toys. They’re all in different seasons of life: some children require more correction at the moment, some children require more freedom.
Exhausting myself by trying to play fair actually makes kids miss out on the opportunity to celebrate the success of others.
Anytime one of my children is on the receiving end of something awesome (sports trophy, birthday present, play date with a friend, etc), inevitably another child will complain, criticize, or get angry about it.
And anytime this happens, I tell my kids, “Let them have their moment.”
Special moments don’t happen everyday, so when they do, I want my kids to be able to celebrate with them instead of feeling slighted.
My dad and I are both fascinated by human nature. In high school when other kids were reading “The Great Gadsby”, my dad made me read “How To Win Friends And Influence People”. It’s probably my favorite book of all time. The author, Dale Carnegie, addresses the issue of “one-upping”, which is when someone shares something then another person tries to outdo their story.
Which is the exact opposite of letting someone have their moment.
Because I’ve spent the last twenty years influenced by Mr. Carnegie, I pay attention to conversations…and one-upping is as prevalent in adults as it is in kids. Part of it is because we are such relational beings that when someone shares a story, we connect by sharing our story as well (which is good). But part of it is because it’s a flaw of human nature that we all want to show others how important we are (which is not so good). And I am just as guilty as anyone.
But that’s a whole other rabbit trail for another day.
The point: as a society, we have a hard time letting people have their moment. And it’s something that is important for me to teach my children.
When it’s one child’s birthday, it’s their birthday. And no one else gets a present.
When one child is invited to a friend’s house (and old enough), they go alone.
When it’s someone’s sports game, we all watch.
When a child receives an award, no other child is allowed to brag about the time they got that award.
When a kid accomplishes something exciting (riding a bike, learning to swim, etc), we all cheer! No one is allowed to say, “That’s easy. I already know how to do that.”
I may spend $100 on Christmas presents for one kid and $40 for another. Thought matters; an equal expense doesn’t.
Even as an adult, it is hard to celebrate someone else’s success (especially if it’s for something we want ourselves). But we have to learn how to do that, so I want my kids to learn now.
The best part about letting someone have their moment is that one day your moment will come…and you will want others to be excited for you and celebrate your success (even if it’s for something they want themselves).
Which goes back to the original golden rule: Treat others as you want to be treated.
A lesson for adults and kids. And especially internet trolls.