I hear the words “That’s not fair!” on an almost daily basis around here. It doesn’t matter what the issue is, if something appears to be unequal to one of my kids, those words come out of their mouths.
Kids and teenagers often equate fair with equal. Does my sibling have the same amount of ice cream as me? She got to go do something special, when is it my turn? He gets to stay up until 9, why do I have to go to bed at 8? This is how our kids look at the world.
But the truth is that things can be unequal and still be fair. God didn’t make all of us equal. We don’t all have the same gifts and talents, but we do all have gifts and talents. If everyone was exactly alike, then the world would be a horribly boring place.
I had a discussion with some other bloggers I know about this topic yesterday, and the wisdom that came out of that discussion was that we need to change the way we talk about fairness in our homes. We need to teach our kids that fair doesn’t always mean equal.
Every child is different. Every child has different needs. Every child deserves to have those needs met. But that doesn’t mean that we meet those needs in exactly the same way for each child. As parents, we have to make choices about what’s best for each child.
My younger daughter’s love language is physical touch. She needs someone to hug her and snuggle with her almost daily. My other daughter’s love language is words of affirmation. She needs someone to boost her up with words almost daily. If I tried to fill both my daughters’ emotional tanks with hugs, then things would be equal, but my older daughter would not be getting what she needs. It would be equal but not fair.
So, the next time you hear the words, “That’s not fair!” in your house, have a conversation about fair vs. equal. Here are some ideas to get the conversation started.
1. Ask your kids what they think the difference is between the words “fair” and “equal.” Place two bowls on the table filled equally with a treat that one child likes but the other doesn’t. Explain that giving each of them a bowl would be equal, but it wouldn’t be fair because it would only be a treat for one person.
2. Talk about how God is fair but not equal. Read 1 Corinthians 12:8-11 with your kids. Talk about how God gives different gifts to different people. Everyone gets a gift, but they’re not all the same. When we look at it, it’s not equal, but it is fair.
3. Ask your kids to give you an example of a situation where things aren’t equal but they are fair. Reinforce the concept with your kids by getting them to think of an example of fairness.
4. Remind your kids that life sometimes isn’t fair or equal, but tell them that in your home, you do the best you can to make things fair. Home is a place where everyone needs to have their needs met in the way that’s best for that person. That may mean things aren’t always equal, but you do your best to make them fair.
Fairness without equality is a tough concept for kids to grasp because it can sometimes seem like things aren’t fair when they aren’t equal. Keep working to meet your kids’ needs in the best way you know how. Ask God for wisdom about how to best meet your kids’ needs — even if the way you do that means you have to be more fair than equal.