I have three children. They are 12, and twin 5-year olds. We have recently entered the season of life called “that’s not fair.” It’s a terrible stage. It’s taxing, exhausting and I can sincerely state that I have said the words “because I said so,” more than any other mom in the history of fairness. At times, I can approach the situation as that teachable moment we all strive to find. At other times, it is surely the 74-ton straw that broke this camel’s back. How does a mother create and enforce a sense of fairness between children, siblings, and twins… when the only fairness they’ll ever see is the fairness they create?
Life isn’t fair. This is a fact that we all know, have shared, stated plainly, felt, and fell victim to. Whether it stemmed from our childhood, our collegiate career, or our workplace, we know what it feels like to stare into the complicated abyss that is fairness. A good friend of mine once explained that his sons fought over everything. What direction they were looking in, or the air they were breathing— was systematically the property of one child or the other. Looking in the same direction or breathing the same air was punishable by excessive whining, crying, and pointing by the injured party. But! When instructed to share a peanut butter and jelly sandwich; they became the ultimate teammates-- nearly measuring the width of the sandwich to ensure that both sides received equality.
What is your earliest memory of fairness? Or lack thereof? Mine was access. Financial access, specifically. My childhood best friend was “well off” as my grandmother explained. And as the eldest of a prominent family, divorced in the early 80s, she was the first person I knew to experience the twos. Two houses, two sets of holidays, two parents were vying for her attention and affections. She had two bedrooms, two tape players, two personal libraries. It was insane. No sensible parent should exert effort or finances to win their child's affections, but the early 80s was not privy to this information. Estranged parents granted their children’s desires if for no reason than to ensure that their court-ordered visitation was problem-free (for the most part).
As a child, growing up with my grandmother, this access hurt me. I felt slighted by the fact that I did not have the same access my friend had. I did not have two wallets to jump into. I had one home, one room, one set of everything. I never had the newest of anything. When I felt brave enough to breach this subject with my beloved guardian, she told me “well, sweetheart, life is not fair.” She went on to explain that while my friend had access to so many material things, no one could know her true heart’s desires. They were too busy trying to impress her and keep her; they didn’t have the time or energy to expend getting to know her, engaging her, supporting her. “Things don’t make a person happy, and life will only be fair if you make it that way”; my grandmother reminded me.
My contribution to the concept of worldwide fairness is to raise conscious, empathetic, loving children. Children that will reach out their hand to help another because it’s the right thing to do, not because they want something in return. My hope is that the environment that we call home is fair enough that they can see a difference between how I treat them and how others treat them. My desire is that when they look back on their childhood, on me, and on our home that their only reflections will be that of love. I know it’s not 100 percent realistic, but it’s hope nonetheless.
Sometimes I buy one item and request that they share. Most days we decide together on what I’ll make for dinner. Other times, I make their favorite meal items, all on the same day. I do what I can to show that the fairness comes from within. It is not for purchase, for leasing, or handed down. Fairness comes from doing what is right backed up with empathy and understanding. It’s sharing the fruits of your labor with someone because you want them to know that joy. You want your fruit… to be their fair.
I want to teach my children that fairness is not about things, but the broader concept of just. It is my hope that they’ll see and know that a life guided by truth and reason will create an environment where justice and fairness can lead the way. Realizing that life is not fair, but choosing to commit to what is right is the only way I can model this behavior. I pray I’m doing it right.