If you will have, do have, or have ever had a nine year old boy in your life, you have probably heard this ever common, often blood curdling statement, “That’s not fair!” I hear it multiple times a day from my own nine year old son. I thought it was a phrase which would never end, and apparently even, we, as adults, struggle with perceived unfairness in our own lives quite often.
I started reading a book which my pediatrician recommended to me called “Wild Things: The Art of Raising Boys” by Stephen James and David Thomas. I highly recommend anyone with a son, no matter how old, to read it. While reading the book, I discovered that at about the age of 9, a boy becomes “The Individual”. He starts to be aware of moral correctness, and at the same time, starts to realize what he considers fair and unfair.
What is fair and unfair in the mind of a nine year old boy? Try having him sit and do his 60 minutes of homework while his six year old sister is finished with her homework in twenty minutes. Maybe try giving him a few extra chores, and you may hear some really great rebuttals! And, then there is my personal favorite,“Why do you get to stay up and watch T.V. and I have to go to bed, that’s so unfair!!!”
A little while ago, my daughter ripped a hole in her sweater she wore at school. I was unable to repair it at home, so I needed to get her a new one. After I picked my two children up from school, we walked into the house and my daughter was so excited about her new sweater. And, of course, the first words out of my son’s mouth were, “That’s so unfair!!!”
At that moment, it came to me like a flash. What is fair, is not always equal. I said these exact words to him, and he was dumbfounded (I really wish I had a picture of his face!).
It is such a simple concept, but one so many children and adults fail to grasp. I explained to him that his sister got a new sweater because her old one had a hole in it, and he didn’t need a new sweater. So, it is fair that she got a new sweater because she needed one, but it may not be equal; sometimes fair and equal can be two different things.
In my son’s class last year, there was a student who tragically lost her mother to cancer. His teacher wrote a note to the class explaining that that particular student would be needing some more attention because of what she was going through. I asked my son if he remembered that student from the previous year and he nodded his head that he did. I explained to him that that child got some extra attention and leniency from the teacher, and it may not have been equal to what the rest of the class was getting, but it was fair because it was what she needed at the time.
Eventually, his puffed up chest started to go down and he was about done trying to declare all the moral injustices his mother was bestowing upon him. I still wasn’t quite sure he truly understood what I was trying to explain to him. About a week later, I took him shopping for soccer cleats since he had grown out of his old ones. When we were walking out of the store, he asked me if his sister was also getting new shoes, and I told him she wasn’t because she didn’t need new ones. He asked “So, it’s not equal that I got new shoes, but it is fair?” I smiled and nodded at him, and I could see that he was finally processing that information.
When you really think about it, would you put a band aid on your unskinned knee just because your friend had one because she fell? Would you go out and replace your car, which runs fine, just because your neighbor got a new car because his car broke down?
I am trying to teach my children, now that they are getting older, that they will not always get something because the other one does. That is not how life works, and if I don’t teach them this concept, I am not doing my job as a mother to get them ready to be independent contributing adults to society. The concept of fairness not always being equal is a difficult concept to grasp. Many times, we as adults find it hard to understand why some people may have more than we have. My hope is that trying to teach my children this concept at a young age will help to make them a little bit more compassionate towards others who may really need more than they do. It may appear that what another person is getting is more when in fact, it is what they need. In looking at situations through that outlook, we can see that what is fair may not always be equal. But, what is fair will always be fair.
How do you teach your children the concept of fairness?
This is an original post by Meredith to World Mom’s Blog. You can read more about Meredith’s life in Nigeria and her transition back on her blog at www.wefoundhappiness.blogspot.com.
Photo credit to Douglas Sprott. This photo has a creative commons attribute license.