How often do you hear “It’s not fair!” proclaimed in your home?
Kids have an acute sense of equality and fairness– at least when they are the ones that come up with the short end of the stick.
Think about it: how likely is it that your child would fervently protest the fact that her brother got a smaller piece of cake than she did? Most kids (and adults for that matter) care about equality when it benefits them.
Is it time for a tweak to your parenting in this area? Consider using the following questions to do a quick check up:
What subtle things do you do in your family to perpetuate the importance of fairness? Do you count Christmas gifts to make sure everyone gets the same amount? Do you buy something for one child out of necessity and then feel compelled to buy something for your other children to even the score? When you do something special with one child do you try to then smooth over hurt feelings by promising to do something with your other children as well? Do you find yourself questioning your parenting decisions because “it wouldn’t be fair”?
By putting fairness on such a high pedestal, we actually perpetuate a heart problem in our children – a heart that is focused on self.
Before we get to the “what can I do about it?” part of this article, I want to direct you to a helpful piece of Scripture.
What the Bible says about fairness
In Corinthians chapter 6, Paul speaks harshly to the congregation at Corinth for their lawsuits among brothers. He asks in verse 7, “Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?”
It can be easy to gloss over this verse in the context of the rest of this passage. But let’s camp out here for a bit. What is Paul (God, rather) saying to us? Isn’t He saying that brotherly love and unity within the body of Christ is better than justice? Wow. Better to let something be unfair than cause disunity and strife among brothers. Like so many things in the Christian life, God turns our norms upside down.
We may tell our children that they need to consider others better than themselves (Philippians 2:3), but if we perpetuate a priority of fairness with our actions, how deeply will those words take root in their hearts?
What you can do
There are some small shifts you can make to re-orient your families focus on fairness.
- Lead by example. If your children can see you holding humility and unity as the highest goal rather than fairness regarding material things, they will have a living example after which they can pattern their reactions. We are never going to be a perfect example for our kids, so even pointing out when our own desire for fairness shows up, can help create an opportunity for a heart-oriented conversation.
- Watch out for favoritism. Maybe your need to ensure fairness is fueled by an underlying affinity toward one child. Some kids are more difficult the parent than others – this is not something that parents readily admit, but it is true. We can harbor frustration, anger, shame and disappointment regarding children who are more challenging to parent. Your child might sense this and start to “pull” for more and more fairness. You can try to address this but working to cultivate unique and separate relationships with each of your children, that focus on shared interests and common ground (this article about what to do when you don’t like your child might help).
- Stop “bean counting.” If you do, you will eventually find that your children will stop being focused on fairness as well. In fact, you will likely find that they develop hearts wanting to give of their bounty. And they will learn the ever-so valuable lesson that giving is just another form of receiving.
- Talk about the impact of sin. The very fact that we are alive is “unfair.” Our sin nature requires death. The fact that we are here is a manifestation of God’s love and mercy. If we were to truly advocate for fairness, we would be asking for our own demise. When we can understand this reality, the fact that Jimmy got three more Skittles doesn’t seem that important.
- Study the above passage together as a family. And talk about the all-time, ultimate expression of “unfairness.”
And what was this ultimate in unfairness?
“. . . Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross”(Phil. 2:5-8).
Now that’s not fair.