“Life's not fair, is it?…
…You see I…I shall never be king…and you, shall never see the light of another day”
There's a lot of truth in that line! I have watched The Lion King, listened to the soundtrack, and read the books probably hundreds if not thousands of times. That was back when I only had one child. Macey and I were a duo for four years! We spent a lot of time traveling during those four years. Listening to the cassette tape soundtrack while singing at the top of our lungs was what we did. To this day, when I travel certain highways I can almost hear the sound of that memory!
When Macey became an older sister everything changed. Suddenly, life wasn't always fair. In the next four years, she would gain three siblings. Later, she gained two more. Sometimes she had the privilege of being the older sister, and sometimes the burden. One lesson she learned quickly is that “life's not fair.”
Throughout the years we have added many families to our list of friends. Over time I have noticed that there are those families who try to keep everything “even Steven” and those who quote Scar, “life's not fair.”
The “Even Steven” family might sound something like this:
“She got a bigger piece of cake than I did!”
“He got to go first the last time!”
“Why did she get two gifts and I only got one?”
“Why doesn't he have to do the dishes?”
I recently observed a child playing the “Even Steven” card at Menchies. To be honest, I felt embarrassed and sorry for her. When child number one finished up with his creation he plopped it up on the scale. Child number two came along to have his yogurt weighed but noticed that his brother had two cherries on top. The cashier had already weighed the dessert but the child felt that he also needed two cherries. The scene continued for several minutes while we waited to pay for our yogurt. Sadly, the mother was frustrated and beside herself offering the child stuff from her own bowl of yogurt while he pouted and wouldn't eat his dessert because it wasn't fair.
Guess what? Equal is not always fair.
Right from the start, I knew that I'd never be able to keep things “even” between my kids, so I didn't beat myself up when things didn't work out equally. It didn't occur to me until later what a huge favor I did for them.
Macey got the least material goods of all my children simply because I was a single mom with zero child support. On the other hand, she had the most one on one attention, has the ONLY filled out baby book, and has the most photos of her life! We also went on a trip to China, just the two of us, last year. I didn't hear one word of complaint from my other children.
I was definitely more strict on Macey and Haley than I have been on the last four. That could be from my desire to get it all perfect and not make any mistakes then realizing later that mistakes are inevitable and perfection is impossible. I've been more lenient on the younger set. Maybe I've been worn down or maybe I'm just becoming soft in my older years.
Some people might not think it's fair that one of my children has gone to private school all four years of high school or that one of my children was allowed to drop out of school. People are not all the same and therefore simply cannot all be treated the same.
Let me give you an example of how people should not be treated the same. Two patients visit a walk-in clinic; both have been vomiting most of the morning. Considering keeping all things equal should the doctor write a prescription for Phenergan for both patients? Not necessarily. One patient is in her first trimester of pregnancy and one has been receiving chemotherapy.
Can you see how equal is not always fair? If one of my children has been recently sick I might expect them to go to bed earlier, skip sweets, or take some yucky medicine. It might not seem fair but it's what they needed.
I have attempted to make sure in my parenting, that my children have equally received what they need when they need it. This is equity. Equity in parenting is providing each child the tools they need to be successful. It may not be equal, it may not look fair.
If the children wanted something and it was in our power to give it we attempted to fulfill some but not all of their wishes. Mostly, we consider them on a case by case basis. However, what I have done for one child has little bearing on what I plan to do with another. My children are individuals and I like to treat them that way.
During the Christmas season, grandparents and parents often agonize trying to keep everything even. They work really hard to make sure that the kids receive an equal amount of gifts. Meanwhile, the kids get really good at keeping score.
Don't get me wrong, we definitely set a budget for what we will spend on the kids at Christmas. However, if Kid #1 gets a well thought out gift that cost $120 and Kid #2 gets a well thought out gift that costs $145 and they are both under budget, I don't feel the need to buy Kid #1 an extra $25 gift to make it even or fair.
This is the way I have raised my children and for the most part, they do not feel that they were treated unfairly. I asked them. Among other things, my daughter Ivy said, “equal opportunity not equal outcome.” My daughter Macey wishes she had the same opportunity to go to private school like her sister has but it just wasn't financially possible at that time. She understands that and would never want us to deny Ivy and opportunity simply because she didn't have the same opportunity.
In a way, I believe that Even Steven and Entitlement go hand in hand. Make a huge deal out of keeping everything equal between the siblings in all things during their childhood and they might grow up feeling entitled to what others have simply because they have the mindset that things should always be “fair.”
In the Bible, we read the parable of the laborers in Matthew 20 where laborers were hired throughout the day to work in the field. At the end of the day the laborers who were hired last and had worked the least amount of time were paid first and the same amount as the laborers who had been working since the start of the day. The laborers who worked longer felt it was unfair and complained but the owner stated his right to do with his money what he pleased. “So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen”
The thief on the cross (Luke 23:39-43), whose life of service was limited to a moment of repentance and confession of faith in Christ, received the same reward of eternal life as the apostle Paul. (source)
I have yet to understand how keeping everything “fair” benefits the children. I'm by no means an expert in child rearing, just ask my children! I know parents who DO try to keep everything even to create a sense of fairness but it just seems like it mostly stresses the parents out and causes more conflicts between siblings.
There are certain circumstances where the situation could actually be considered “cruelly unfair” in a way that could mentally hurt children. For example, I have seen a parent give favor, gifts or opportunities to his sons that he did not and would not give to his daughter. This kind of parenting can have serious consequences and is not at all what I am describing in this post. That is favoritism, and that's a post for another day!
I suppose this could be considered basically an editorial. Feel free to voice your own opinion for or against “Even Steven” parenting below, just keep it civil. Any rude or snarky comments will be deleted.