"Fair" is Where They Sell Pigs

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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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Related Posts:

Helping Hands and Tying Heartstrings

Helping Hands and Willing Hearts

Related Posts (Outside Links):


The Folly of Fairness

1.) The Folly of Fairness

2.) Ibid

3.) Creating Contentment

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11 Responses to "Fair" is Where They Sell Pigs

  1. Rachel says:

    Great post, Rina. What a blessing to have children like that. I think the entitlement mentality in our country is alarming. It’s so sad in light of the fact that the only thing that we need is something that absolutely none of us deserve.

  2. Mrs. Parunak says:

    That was really convicting and inspiring. I’m afraid I have been way too guilty of trying to give all my children exactly the same things. Thank you for this fresh vision!

  3. I needed that. Whenever my mother comes to visit, she is really bent on this fairness thing. I have FIVE children. They all have different needs. Whenever she gets my oldest something to somehow compensate for getting my little four year old something, he usually just gives it to her anyway. He only wants what he needs–not everything under the sun. What a blessing to learn that early.

  4. Jo says:

    I came to this post via your newer one regarding helpful children. This is great; I’m going to print this one for reference! My parents-in-law are also bent on the fairness thing. I hadn’t put this much thought into why I generally disapproved.

    In raising our children, we’re trying to remember to use sin words: behavior isn’t “bad” or “wrong,” it’s “selfish” or “disobedient.” Your post is spot-on. Discontentment and covetousness. Exactly. I pray that my children (and I) will be more focused on responsibilities than on rights.

    • Rina says:

      Jo, I really love your idea about using sin words to define behavior. What an excellent idea! I’ll definitely be doing that from now on!

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  6. Sabrina Pate says:

    Great post. Do you have any tips on how to parent this way? My husband and I were just talking about this the other day- that we do not want to parent with everything having to be “equal” etc. Our son is only 9 months old, so we are just figuring out how we will celebrate Christmas, handle toys etc. Any tips would be so appreciated- thanks!

    • Rina says:

      Sabrina, I’ve been thinking of how to answer this and I guess the thing we’ve done most is that we’ve just never acted as if being “fair” were something to strive for. I don’t know that its ever really occurred to the kids that it’s “not fair” if I bring home a toy for one of them and not for the other. “Fair” was never even in their vocabulary until recently (and I really don’t know where they got the concept, except to say that as they’ve gotten older they’ve been exposed to more, both in books and around other people.) We’ve never done anything like count out M&M’s (we just give them each a handful) and they’re all used to the baby getting to eat different foods than they eat (and me eating differently, also, when I’m pregnant.) As I mentioned in my most recent post, all of our toys are communal so I’m sure that helps, also. I know that the “fair” ideal has crept in, in more recent years… we have fielded questions recently such as “well why did SHE get to…” But honestly, I think that concept was something that was introduced to our children OUTSIDE of our home, not in it, because it’s only been going on very recently and there are a lot of things that have been happening in our home recently that have not been a part of it before now (the older kids are reading more books, they’re involved in music lessons outside the home, they’ve been interacting more with friends, etc.) So we’ve really been trying to counter this by focusing on helping the kids to be HAPPY for one another when one child gets to do or have something different than another. And we refuse to give in to it. I don’t promise a child that next time he or she can do or have something just because another one did or had something this time. If one person gets a second bowl of cereal and there isn’t enough for everyone, I don’t run out and buy another box or try to make up for it by giving them something else. So I think that helps, too.
      Hopefully that is helpful? I don’t have any fool-proof answers because it is something we’re starting to deal with more often recently, but I think setting up a system that isn’t “fair” from the very beginning is a good idea!

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