I sit and watch my children play a game of dominoes. They play with their pieces face-up so the other players can see them, and my four year old watches closely to see which pieces her sisters have in their possession. She doesn’t do this to her own advantage. Instead, she carefully considers what the other players have in order to play the pieces that will help them win. Sometimes, she’ll even help her sisters beat her, telling them what to play so they have the advantage. The amazing thing is, she genuinely wants her sisters to beat her and takes tremendous satisfaction in each victory they obtain.
I’m in awe of this kind of behavior from my four year old, but not necessarily surprised. My children regularly work for the good of their siblings. I have brought home toys for some kids and not others and watched those who were given the special gifts pool their allowance to buy something for the left-out child. I have ordered special clothing for one child and later witnessed that child loaning it to her sisters. I have witnessed my two year old, on numerous occasions, give a coveted toy to his younger brother and my older girls find tremendous satisfaction in giving their siblings the “best” bowl of cereal or biggest cookie. This isn’t to say my children are perfect or never argue. But they rarely expect to be given something simply because it’s given to someone else, or complain if someone gets a special privilege they are not allowed.
People often ask how we’ve raised children who get along so well, and I think a major contributing factor is simply that we have so many of them, we couldn’t treat them the way many modern children are treated. They outnumber us eight to two (or, considering my husband works outside the home, one.) Therefore, we were forced to do things differently and one of those things is that we never tried to treat them “fairly.”
I’ve seen many families struggle in this area with their children and my heart goes out to them. It’s a tremendous emotional (and, I’d imagine, financial) drain to constantly be worried over “fairness.” If one child gets a gift, the other must have one, too. If one child is asked to go on a special outing with a friend, Mom and Dad must promise a similar outing to the child left behind. If one child plays a game with Daddy, the other child must play, too. The practice of fairness can also result in blessings being held back from those who should have them. If Mom is at a toy shop and sees the perfect gift for her youngest boy, she often feels obligated to find something for her other children. If she can’t, she doesn’t buy anything at all, denying her son the blessing of a toy he would really love. If Dad is going out and there is room for one child but not the other, he’ll often take no one and a child is denied the blessing of an outing. Older children are often required to give up privileges that should be theirs, and younger children are allowed experiences above their level of maturity. Children are denied gifts and privileges they truly deserve, simply because they aren’t available to others in the family.
Rather than encouraging our children to strive for equality by trying to treat them fairly (an almost impossible task in a large family!) we have tried to teach them to rejoice in the blessings of others. There was once an experiment done that demonstrates this principle. An actor in a supermarket (posing as a customer) asked to cut in front of someone in a checkout line because he had only a few items. As the actor was waited on, he was informed he was the five-millionth customer and had won $500. The person who allowed him to cut in front of them in line was then watched carefully for their reaction. Most of the people in this situation reacted negatively, since they would have otherwise been the recipients of the reward. “It just isn’t fair!” they replied over and over. But one customer was actually happy for the actor/customer. When asked why she wasn’t disappointed, she said, ‘Oh, I’m just happy for him. I’ll get blessed another way’”
I want my children to be like this woman! I want them to grow up with the ability to rejoice in the good fortune of others. I want them to be happy with what they’re given and generous with all they have. Life will never treat my children “fairly,” and I hope that in treating them “unfairly” at home, I am helping them learn gratitude, sacrifice, and love.
My oldest children are now arguing about which piece they should play. One tells the other “if you play this, you’ll win!” and the other says “but then you’ll lose!” I think it might be working.
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