It’s Not Fair
Thoughts & Reflections
At some point in childhood, “fair” comes up. “It’s not fair,” comes from an adult or from a child, and we’re met with this difficult dilemma. “Life’s not fair,” isn’t a very palatable response, but working to make things “fair” is a slippery slope and a never-ending game of chase, like the bangs we cut ourselves in middle school — there are no winners.
When we feel something isn’t fair, it’s usually when something didn’t work out in our favor. A colleague was publicly recognized for something I also contributed to. The other line is moving faster than mine. I was doing what everyone else was doing and I was called out for it. Ugh. Not fair.
We rarely feel something isn’t fair when it does work out in our favor. We might feel a bit sheepish, and even work to “balance the scales,” but not always.
Am I going to decline a raise if my colleague wasn’t offered the same one? If I have four items and the person behind me has three, do I without question offer that they go first? When I see someone being pulled over do I volunteer to the officer that I, too, was speeding? Sometimes, but not always. Our empathy and social-mindedness means we might feel uncomfortable or self-conscious, and we might volunteer a change if it were appropriate, such as advocating for a colleague when we are the recipient of praise or offering that the parent who is having a bit of a challenging moment step ahead of you, but it’s not expected, or even necessarily more common than simply taking things as they are. Sometimes things go my way, sometimes they don’t. The universe isn’t out to get me, it’s not that “life’s not fair” and I just need to deal, it’s just that things aren’t always ideal, and learning these coping strategies is a life skill we’ve honed through growing up.
Fair is also not always identical.
If one sibling needs a shot or a round of antibiotics, do we administer the same for the other?
If one child skins their knee, do we push another down, too?
If it’s one child’s birthday, do we sing to everyone else, as well?
If your colleague goes home to tend to a sick child, do we cancel the rest of the day for everyone?
If one child is of driving age, do we insist they wait until their sibling is before they get their license?
If one child wants to take cello, do we say no because their older sibling had more of an interest in soccer?
If you get a latte on the way in to work, do you get one for everyone else?
These examples are a bit tongue-in-cheek, partially because they’re such dramatic examples of different treatment being necessary and appropriate. Fair is more appropriately “exactly what you need, recognizing who you are as an individual and all the variables that entails.”
Let’s look at the classroom.
You won’t get a new presentation on handwashing because someone else did or because you’re three now or because it’s Wednesday, you’ll have this new presentation because today is just the right day for this. You’re ready.
You won’t have the same lunch as your friend. Some of use will have peanut butter sandwiches and some of us will have leftover casserole and some of us will have a bento box with perfectly curated hard-boiled egg suns and broccoli trees. Each lunch is sent with care, and each suits the nutritional needs your family has decided on.
One day it’s your birthday and you maybe bring treats for your classmates, or not. You maybe have a party, or not. You maybe eat special food, or not. Different families are different. Different celebrations are different. It’s all wonderful. You are loved and cherished, no matter what.
Is it “fair” to insist on cake, when it’s my birthday and I don’t care for it? Is it “fair” to have a sandwich in my lunch when my classmate is gluten intolerant and prefers a lettuce wrap? Is it “fair” to respond with “that is a beautiful material, isn’t it?? Someday you will know that material, but today is not that day. You can dust the beads, or I’d be more than happy to remind you of a material that you do know.”
Fair is not identical. Fair isn’t always even. Fair is trusting that you’re known and seen and understood, and that it will all work out in the end. Today might be my day, maybe not. There will be times when it feels like everyone else in the world gets something, or “doesn’t have to” something, but how we feel about things isn’t always indicative of the reality of things. Giving children these skills while they’re little is an incredible gift. Asking what they mean when something isn’t “fair” helps clarify when a child might not be asking for what they want, or making their needs known. Discussing when things are different but still very fair, as well as not trying to always make things exactly the same, helps children not only develop coping strategies, but also to see and appreciate all the times things are different.
Another child being able to tie shoes when I can’t isn’t a matter of “fair,” it’s a matter of practice.
A younger sibling staying home with a parent when I go off to school isn’t about “fair,” it’s about different needs.
A friend falling over and scraping their chin has nothing to do with “fair,” it has everything to do with hugs and offering a tissue.
“Fair is not identical. Fair isn’t always even.”
The trouble with trying to make things “fair” for children is that we’re stuck just trying to make them equal, and the only thing equal about children is that they’re equally unique and wonderful and just exactly Them. We all have different aptitudes and challenges. We’re at different points in our journey. We woke up on different sides of the bed and our day will have a very different path. We have different families and different laughs. We bring different skills and personalities to our relationship, and it’s all marvelous. We will never be the same, and isn’t that grand?! Trying to make things the same stifles the creativity and the joy that comes from our treasured differences, and undermines the nuances and special achievements that are unique to each day and to each child. Let us instead celebrate difference, rejoice in learning, and support each other and each child the best we are able, the right way each needs.
Written by:Charlotte Snyder