That’s not fair! As parents, we’ve all heard this cry from our children. It gets old really fast. What are we to do? Sometimes we can find a quick and easy resolution to keep the peace. Other times we try to avoid being caught when we know some special privilege or event will upset another sibling. We also try to explain that sharing is important and that it can’t “always” be fair. When we’re really ticked, we might just scream “tough – life’s not fair!” Are there any other options to address fairness?
I’ve gotten quite good a keeping the peace, knowing what will tick off a particular child. However, this can build resentment in us parents, and is not a long-term solution. Plus, I personally don’t like tiptoeing around my kids. Reasoning that life’s not fair might as well be “blah, blah, blah – I love you, honey.” Kids don’t get it and won’t for some time. Screaming at our children that “life isn’t fair” or “too bad” or “tough” might as well be “BLAH, BLAH, BLAH – daddy’s angry.” There is an alternative, but it’s not a popular message.
In one of those very, very rare moments of profundity (the kind that comes from sleep deprivation, frustration, and anger), I said in desperation to my kids: “It’s not about fair; it’s about grace.” They didn’t get it. But I did. I understood, for the first time, that I need to be practicing and teaching my kids grace. How do I do this?
As with most lessons, example is a great teacher, although this can be tough when sleep deprived, frustrated, and angry. Another way, is with games. Kids love games, right? I decided that I was going to demonstrate grace to my kids with a game. I sat three of them down at the kitchen table with three experiments in mind. First, I placed one cupcake in the middle of the table. They did exactly as I expected. They yelled and screamed that there is only one, until my oldest realized they could cut it in thirds. Thirds, in their eyes, equaled ”fair.” Everyone was happy. But I didn’t want fair – I wanted grace.
Knowing that my kids would come to this conclusion with the cupcake, I presented them with a second opportunity to practice grace – I gave them one morroca. They all grabbed for it. The oldest quickly suggested they could take turns, which again is fair. Then they all decided they could shake it at the same time – again, as long as it’s fair, they’re content. I didn’t want content though. I wanted to gradually show them that some things simply can’t be divided or shared equally – life indeed doesn’t work that way. So, I moved on to the third and final “grace” lesson.
For the third lesson, I placed two quarters on the table. All three kids grabbed for them, but one obviously was left with nothing. I asked them how they would “fix” this. They talked about cutting a quarter in half, but they realized that would ruin the value of the quarter, as well as leave two kids with “just a half” and the other with a whole quarter. That’s not fair! One asked for change. They wanted all dimes so they could divide it up that way. As you can guess, no matter how they divided up the $0.50, it wasn’t going to be even for the three of them.
At this point, I stated that sometimes things just “can’t be fair.” I talked about lots of times where situations arose that, no matter how hard we tried, they just couldn’t be made fair. They twisted in their seats, giggled a little, but “something” did break through. One gave her quarter to the person that had none. Then the other gave the quarter to the one that just gave hers away, thought she wouldn’t accept it. In the end, no one wanted the money. Now, this may be because they were struggling with the concept of grace and simply decided it would be easier to relinquish any and all things tainted with grace. I’m “choosing” to believe they got the message, a little. Gotta go…someone just screamed “That’s not fair!”
By Ted Olson