If you’ve got kids, you’ve heard this line more than once. When they are little, it’s about the colour of the juice cup and how many goldfish crackers are on the plastic snack plate. When they are adolescents and beyond, it’s about spending quality time, rules and money.
What’s fair is not always equal and what’s equal is not always fair…
A beloved colleague of mine consistently uses this line in her classroom. The way she explains it to her students and to me is the following:
Imagine looking over a wall- every student gets the opportunity to go look over the wall (equal chance). What happens if a student is too short to see over the wall? He would need a stepping stool to make it fair (fair chance).
The difference between equal and fair can therefore be a question of fulfilling certain needs. Being fair responds to needs. It levels the playing field so that everyone has an equal chance at success and happiness. To state the obvious, since everyone has different needs, the response and support cannot not always be equal to be fair.
This seems to resonate with students but getting your kids to accept this idea as justification for doing things differently for each kid is a much bigger challenge.
As a parent you know that one child may demand more time from you to deal with their emotions, another may need more active playtime with you. One may need to talk about everything and share while another may just need to know you are in the next room. One may need support to move out and spread their wings while another needs to eat supper with you every night. Certainly the parent can see this differential in needs but often it can be difficult for kids to accept these differences. This is a grey zone in parenting where lines get a little blurred as the parent tries to deliver what’s equal and fair to their kids.
Kids watch and hear everything that goes on in your home. If one kid got even one extra dollar for the candy machine you can bet its been registered to be used against you at a later time. Kids certainly cannot comprehend what goes on behind the scenes as the parent struggles to do the best job possible to provide what each child needs physically and emotionally to thrive.
At the end of the day, as parents, we want happy, well adjusted, successful, independent kids. They will take very different paths to get there with varying needs along the way. All we can do is offer our support where they need it as much as possible while all the while trying to be equal and fair. There ain’t no rule book or instruction manual to get this stuff right. It is trial an error at its best. So next time your kids yell, “It’s not fair!” You can come back with this savvy argument explaining that since everyone is different with different needs, ultimately, what’s equal is not always fair and vice versa.
Good luck with that folks. I’d love to hear your stories…