Does “fair” mean “equal”?

Can you treat your children equally and fairly at the same time? Or are these terms mutually exclusive? If you treat both siblings equally are you unfair to one? To treat them fairly must it be unequal?

Equal can become less
If siblings, or parents for that matter, insist on equal treatment that can mean less for one child. The siblings are not the same. They have different interests in clothes, food, athletics, games, TV shows, music, movies and so on. Equal means both siblings go to a baseball game this week and the ballet next week. One of them will probably be disappointed each week.

“To be loved equally is somehow to be loved less. To be loved uniquely – for one’s own special self – is to be loved as much as we need to be loved.”
~ Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish, Siblings Without Rivalry, Perennial Currents, 1998

Parents should not worry whether they are giving equal amounts of love and time; children should not worry whether they are getting equal amounts of love and time. Instead, parents should give in terms of each child’s unique needs.

This should be a simple idea to get across to children. It makes sense to children to be treated individually, not equally. This is also a golden opportunity to teach them the fundamental principle “one size does not fit all” which will come up time and again in their lives.

Check the following web site, especially 14. Children do not have to be treated equally, for stories of real life situations.

Fair can be biased
Semantics again … you know I love words and their meanings. But, Merriam Webster doesn’t always apply to parenting. Merriam Webster defines fair as “marked by impartiality and honesty, free from self-interest, prejudice, or favouritism“. In other words, you can’t be fair if you’re partial and you can’t be partial if you’re fair. You have to be impartial and treat all equally … oops … we already decided that in parenting equal treatment may not be fair.

Being fair is very important, but it is not the same as being equal. As a parent being fair means taking the individual child’s needs into account. Sounds like bias to me. But the opposite approach, impartiality, may even be worse if it means the parent is indifferent to an individual needs. It‘s a difficult fine line to walk. To get good at it, parents have to practice being fair with kids, every day.

As an example, older and younger children may have different privileges due to their age, but if children understand that this inequality is because one child is older or has more responsibilities, they will see this as fair.

Even if you did try to treat your children equally, there will still be times when they feel as if they’re not getting a fair share of attention, discipline, or responsiveness from you. Expect this and be prepared to explain the decisions you have made. Reassure your kids that you always do your best to meet each of their unique needs.

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