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Daditude: Fair but Not Equal

The perfect retort to kids’ constant complaint

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If ever there was a universal children’s complaint, an oft-repeated slogan that can be emblazoned on every kid’s T-shirt, it is that something, sometime, somewhere is not fair.
Fair but Not Equal

She got a bigger piece.

He always goes first.

Why does she get to stay up late?

It’s not fair. It’s not fair. It’s not fair.

Multiple times a day, sometimes multiple times a minute, our children become pint-sized social-justice warriors, civil-litigation attorneys, or victims’ rights advocates, decrying the obvious, injurious, morally horrifying, and completely unjustified unfairness of it all.

Of course, think for a moment about the causes they’re espousing, the cases they are taking, and you’ll realize—how could you not?—that 100 percent of the victims are themselves. Shocking though it may be, they are victims, not victim advocates, litigants representing themselves.

It’s not fair—to me.

Of course, reasoning with the aggrieved party is not going to get a parent too far.

That’s just how the cake came out, and hers is just a tiny bit bigger.

Work it out to take turns choosing what you play.

She’s four years older than you, and that’s why she goes to bed later.

Exasperated, at some point I hit on a line I’ve repeated over and over again. At first my kids clearly didn’t understand it, and I can’t say it’s put a stop to the chorus of fairness-related complaints. But it does succinctly sum up the truth of the matter, and I believe, over time, the message is getting through to them.

Fair doesn’t mean equal, I say.

Life doesn’t give us all the same stuff, the same experiences, the same privileges. But my hope as a parent is to give each of my children what is right for her at that moment. I understand that it’s too much for a small child to embrace the surface injustice of this fact, but no, a 10-year-old, a 6-year-old, and a 4-year-old do not and should not all be treated equally or get whatever it is in equal amounts. And beyond mere age, the talents, passions, and needs of one child do not, cannot, match 100 percent those of any other person. Our job as parents is to recognize each of our children as an independent, autonomous human being and treat her accordingly. One size fits all is not a good fit when one child needs extra cuddles and the other needs to roam independently, or when one loves reading and the other loves sports, and so on.

No, kids, fair does not mean equal. Fair means each one of you gets what’s appropriate for you.

Of course, I sometimes find myself contradicting my own dictum on this. Doling out cake, I must admit I do try very hard to ensure their pieces are as similarly sized as I can make them, and we’ve definitely included some bedtime wiggle room to avoid conflict. Tantrum avoidance is its own value, and choosing one’s battles is a must for any parent.

Still, I stick to my guns when the “It’s not fair” chorus begins. Fair does not mean equal.

And for years, their blank stares in response said it all. But then recently, I had one of those moments where I chose hypocrisy in the name of peace and asked one of my daughters to ensure she doled something out equally among herself and her sisters “to be fair.”

“Fair doesn’t mean equal,” she said in that distinctly “Gotcha, old man” voice all kids use so effectively. And yes, she did have me there.

“True,” I said. “You’re right. But still, let’s try.”

Mission accomplished. Sort of.