Equal Isn’t Always Fair

Six SiblingsThis sounds like gibberish doesn’t it? Of course equal would be fair.  After all, fair is fair, right?

Not always, and practically never with children; not unless you are talking about big money. If you are talking about inheritances, money for college, etc., then yes….be scrupulously equal in what you give each sibling. Even take that equality to a fault. But for everything else, another set of rules apply, depending on what each child needs at a given time.

Here’s an example: You have taken your infant and your toddler to the store with you and the toddler has been extremely well-behaved and asks for a treat; let’s say a frozen yogurt! You think, “Well, that would be a nice treat for us to share and a way to reward him for his great behavior,” so you say yes. Are you going to give your infant some too? Of course not. Wrong reward for the wrong age.

Have you been unequal? Yes.  Have you been unfair? No. You have been appropriate.

Allowances are a typical area of conversation for “fair” and “equal” to come up and you need to be prepared.  Should children of differing ages have the same amount of allowance? Of course not; a five-year old does not need the same amount of money as a ten-year old. A ten-year old does not need the same amount as a fifteen year old. 

We handled this with our children by adding a dollar to their allowance each year and then gave each a bump at middle school and another bump at high school when expenses got higher. These things happened at different times for each of them, but since the younger could look forward to it coming for them…it was fair. Not equal, but fair.

One caveat to the allowance discussion: Be careful of unconscious sexism. Age can inform your decision but gender never should. It can have long-term consequences that you might not expect, as outlined in the 2014 Junior Achievement/Allstate Foundation Survey.

The difficulties grow as summer approaches and the older child may want to go to a sleep away camp for a week and so the younger child wants to go, too. The older child is old enough, but the younger child is not. This is where you must find a fair, and yet unequal way for each child to have a summer experience that is appropriate to their age and it works this way with toys,instruments, lessons, sports, privileges, eventually curfews and dating.

You and your partner have to think about these things before they arise or use the “Let mom and dad talk about this” strategy if it comes up by surprise, so that you are always united. Don’t ever fall for the “separate and conquer” strategy that they may learn faster than you thought they possibly could.

Parenting Tooltip: “If you must have an answer now, before I can talk it over with Mom/Dad, the answer is no.”  

After you have enforced this once or twice, the message will be loud and clear.

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