“That’s not FAAIIIRRRRR!”
Those words must ring through my house at least 20,000 times a week. No matter if it’s waffle portion size, screen time or who gets to sit in the middle row in the van, there's always some injustice occurring, and it’s almost always blamed on me, the mom. Even the two-year old will throw the phrase out there as a way of saying “I’m not happy with these results,” but she has no idea what “that’s not fair” really means. She just knows it’s the standard comeback when someone isn't happy with what mom just laid down.
As an only child growing up, I’d use those words to fight back against my mom’s rules. But the world of siblings that I’m now attempting to parent offers a whole new dimension to the concept of fair. There are now multiple people who want time on my lap, to sit on the kitchen stool, a snack before dinner. And if one person gets said prize and others don’t it’s as if the world were going to implode.
I mean, really, what’s “fair”? My kids would say fair means equal. We should all get the same. But you and I know that’s not how the world works.
Life is not fair.
And there, that same response my own mother would give to my claims of injustice, now flows off my tongue with ease and confidence. Confidence you ask? Well, yes, the more I live life, the more I know life simply isn’t fair. And my job as a mother isn’t to teach my kids how to navigate through a world I wish existed, but to navigate through the actual world. The unfair one.
The one where my four daughters were born with different body types, learning styles, athletic abilities, personalities, health problems, hair color, and on and on and on. Four sisters who live in the same house, drew from the same gene pool, who have had same given to them in lots of ways, have not been dealt equal playing cards in every category. The not fair is just a little more obvious when it’s siblings.
This doesn’t mean I intentionally give one daughter the last piece of cake and run from the room as my girls duke it out. No, I do take into consideration questions of equality when making parenting decisions. But equality isn’t the trump card in our house. Needs are. My job is not to dwell on the fact that life is not fair, that is obvious in some moments, but to act on what is just, what is right. And what may be right for one girl in a moment, or a day, or a year, may not be exactly right for another.
Because here’s the thing, the two-year old needs me in a different way at bedtime than the ten-year old does. If I gave each one an arbitrary amount of time to appease the fair police, neither would get what she needs. My two-year old may need help bathing, brushing teeth, reading a story and snuggling every night. I simply can’t offer that routine four times over. And not all of my children need that kind of detailed attention. Instead, I try to make myself available to the ten-year old for moments when she wants to have a longer conversation because that’s what SHE needs.
The truth is God gives grace to us all. He fills in the spots where we are lacking – our unique, individual places of need. And he isn’t fair about it. He isn’t caught off guard when our needs are great, stopping to say, “Well, you’ve already gotten your even-Stephen portion of me for the day, no more until tomorrow.” He gives me what I NEED.
That’ the good news of this unfair world, the part my children will grow to learn. If you’re a frequent screw-up like me, and need heavy doses of unconditional love, sometimes it’s better not to ask for what’s fair – what’s equal – it’s best to take what you need. And let your sisters do the same.