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Life’s not fair. Should we teach our kids to suck it up?


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#1 Kylie Orr

Posted 05 January 2012 - 11:14 AM

I’m ten years old standing solo on my trampoline (without a net) in my backyard belting out the words (resoundingly off-key) to “What about me” (the original Moving Pictures version) with such melodrama I could almost invoke tears.

C’mon, you remember…

Well there's a pretty girl serving at the counter of the corner shop
She's been waiting back there, waiting for her dreams
Her dreams walk in and out they never stop
Well she's not too proud to cry out loud
She runs to the street and she screams

And the big chorus…

What about me, it isn't fair
I've had enough now i want my share
Can't you see i wanna live
But you just take more than you give


And for full theatrical effect…

So take a step back and see the little people
They may be young but they're the ones
That make the big people big (*this was my favourite line)
So listen, as they whisper
What about me


I couldn’t hold a tune to save myself but it was the release of the words that I wanted. The venting about life and how unfair it all was. I cannot actually recall the source of the unfairness but in a family of four children, there was bound to be some moment in time where my observations were that things were imbalanced.

As an adult, I reflect on this time and find it somewhat baffling and amusing. My mum is the Queen of Fair. She used to serve tinned cherries and count them out because she knew we’d spit the pips into our bowls and compare notes. What she offered one child she offered the others – food, gifts, help, time, love. My overall perception is that things were incredibly fair in my home.

As a result, I like things to be fair. That could be personality, upbringing, or a combination of the two. I don’t function particularly rationally when life throws curve balls that illuminate the unfairness of the world. I have a honed social justice gene that fires a spark inside me, which ultimately is ignited by unfairness.

Clichés spout that life’s not fair, but I have always disputed that palaver. What we can control, we can at least attempt to make fair.

Now I’m a parent, I realise when it comes to children fairness is a tricky one. Christmas can be a time that highlights issues of inequality. Not just within our immediate family but amongst friends, neighbours and the wider community. How many of us ensured our children had equal value of presents, or the same number of gifts to unwrap so it didn’t look like one received more than another?

As our children grow, do we adhere to the same rules for subsequent children as we did for the first, out of fairness, or do we introduce some flexibility as we age, and mature and reason what is worth arguing about? How does that sit with the firstborn who was hit with the rule stick? How do we explain away the differences in parenting between friends - some stricter, some more lenient, when we hear the inevitable cry of "that's not fair"? Is it simply: their family, their rules?

More complicated than that is analysing the needs of our children. Some children require more attention, guidance, discipline, cuddles. Is that fair? No, but it is reality. It is almost impossible to equally dish out time between our children when there is a new baby, or a special needs child, or an ill child.

No one wants to breed resentment in a family but it’s worth teaching our children that life isn’t fair. Bad things happen to good people; we don’t always win even when we try our hardest; deserving something because we are good and that would be the fair thing is not the way the world works. Harsh but valuable life lessons that will help build resilience (ahh, one of those words schools love to promote!). To balance that, for me, it is important to single out the values that are worth fighting for. I don’t want my children to shrug off something that is not fair because “that’s life” if it is something they truly believe in.

Accepting that life is not fair, sorting out when to challenge this and when to make peace with it are skills I need to teach myself, so I can hand them onto my children!

How do you handle the unfairness in life? Do you teach your children that life isn’t fair? What song did you stand on your trampoline and sing with gusto!?

Kylie

P.S. Happy New Year!

#2 Sasha Jensen

Posted 05 January 2012 - 11:32 AM

I agree that children need to understand that they can't control everything in the world. They also need to learn that other people can be mean for no apparent reason; that sometimes they will just get some bad luck; yes, that 'life isn't fair'.

But how can they judge what is and isn't fair unless they are taught this value at home? They need to know that being fair is a good thing, that natural justice should prevail wherever possible. I don't believe that creating unfair situations on purpose for children to learn that 'life isn't fair' will teach them anything. Maybe all that they learn will be that the people they love and trust the most, their parents, seem to make arbitrary decisions without any consideration for the feelings of their children.

Perhaps the emphasis should be put on teaching stoicism in children - not the 'stiff upper lip' cliche, but true stoicism: learning to accept the things that they do not have the power to change, and working on trying to change the things they can.

#3 threetimesblessed

Posted 05 January 2012 - 12:11 PM

I teach my children to be thankful for everything we do have and empathy towards others.
I think modelling fairness as your mother did, enforces the value of equity.

As an adult I try to live by the saying ~ Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can and Wisdom to know the difference. Not easy to do at times! But when faced with a 'life isn't fair' moment, thinking is there something I can do to change the situation or do I just let it go.

I am a teacher, but I think teaching resilience really is the key. I see 5 year olds with more resilience than some of the 20 something year old teachers I supervise! People who crumble when life does throw that curve ball, who are unable to suck it up and move on.

World events often highlight the unfairness of life and are opportunities to explain to our children how sad/unfair/horrific situations can be. Eg. The QLD floods come to mind where we saw such devastation, loss of life and property, an unfair random act of nature but were also presented with the amazing resilient spirit of the people and the community support in helping these people re-build.


#4 tashl

Posted 06 January 2012 - 08:45 AM

I teach my children that it doesn't matter whether life is fair or not. It is impossible to make all things in the world fair because there are so many things that happen beyond human control. Our happiness can't depend on whether these things happen or not.
I grew up in a household where my sister and I would measure the amount of drink in our glasses etc to make sure each had their equal share. I have taught my children that this is a petty waste of time. In the great scheme of things these things are not important. If I am out shopping and I see something nice for one of my kids I don't then go hunting for something for my other child. I emphasise to my kids that they are each their own person and as such are treated differently, but what will always remain the same is the amount of love I have for them. Neither is loved more or less than the other.
I don't want my children to measure the amount of love we have for them by the things they are given.  And I don't want them to base their happiness on the amount of fairness they have in life.


#5 bagelbagel81

Posted 06 January 2012 - 09:06 AM

QUOTE (tashl @ 06/01/2012, 09:45 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
I teach my children that it doesn't matter whether life is fair or not. It is impossible to make all things in the world fair because there are so many things that happen beyond human control. Our happiness can't depend on whether these things happen or not.
I grew up in a household where my sister and I would measure the amount of drink in our glasses etc to make sure each had their equal share. I have taught my children that this is a petty waste of time. In the great scheme of things these things are not important. If I am out shopping and I see something nice for one of my kids I don't then go hunting for something for my other child. I emphasise to my kids that they are each their own person and as such are treated differently, but what will always remain the same is the amount of love I have for them. Neither is loved more or less than the other.
I don't want my children to measure the amount of love we have for them by the things they are given.  And I don't want them to base their happiness on the amount of fairness they have in life.



I like your method. Teaching fairness through other measures than gifts etc. As a twin I was ALWAYS comparing myself and the way my parents treated my sister and myself differently thinking it was unfair. If I had have learnt from a younger age that we were both different and had different gifts and talents we could work on- maybe I would have adjusted to the world a little easier!

In terms of school and life values it's nice to instill fairness amongst everyone in the youngsters - and yes it is usually hearing about acts of nature or war where the innocence of a child is lost and questions of fairness are raised. Focusing on the positives and how "you" as a child (or an adult) can make a difference and being thankful for what you have rather than what you haven't got.

In a nutshell - yep teach kids to suck it up- but still aim for fairness in life.

Edited by bagelbagel81, 06 January 2012 - 09:10 AM.


#6 Rilla

Posted 06 January 2012 - 09:07 AM

My parents taught us "life's not fair - get used to it!". Said with a smile, not in anger or negativity. They applied it to things like -
- if one child went shopping, or on an errand with a parent, and they decided to get a drink or food or a small toy/headband etc while out, well, lucky for them! The others missed out that time. I think the fact that these occasions were spaced out between us meant that in the end it was fair - not sure if that was by design or not - but that's looking back as an adult.
- if they changed relaxed the rules over time so that the youngest got to do things the oldest didn't at the same age, well, too bad! Any rules that appled to us all at once were always the same though. I'm the oldest so I still like to carry on about how my sister got a camera younger than I did, and how when the middle sister and I were at uni that the youngest was allowed to eat dinner watching TV! Important stuff! It's only as a joke though - I couldn't care less, it's just family teasing.

The important stuff like food, shelter, clothing, education and love were "fair".

I think they were good lessons, as life isn't fair. Bad stuff happens, people are nasty, good work isn't always rewarded etc. Somehow they also taught us that when it's important, we should challenge the unfairness, and I think they also gave us a good sense of what things were important. So we are all fairly resillient but not doormats, now as adults.

EF a very weird spelling mistake.

Edited by Purpletulipgirl, 06 January 2012 - 09:09 AM.


#7 Imaginary friend

Posted 06 January 2012 - 12:34 PM

QUOTE
Somehow they also taught us that when it's important, we should challenge the unfairness, and I think they also gave us a good sense of what things were important.


Yes, this sums it up.


I agree with you purpletulipgirl - I think it is important to be fair on big family issues - like not giveing one child a huge christmas present and other one something tiny (totally made up example) and to show your children that you do things, even small things, about unfairness in the world - but  I want our children to recognise that, on a world scale, they are not the ones dealt an unfair hand - the children who have illnesses, live in poverty etc are so much worse off than them and to appreciate what we have (materially and non-tangibly - a loveing family, peaceful society etc)


And  I expect them to realise everything is not the same and we dont go out of our way to compensate the others if one recieves something small and others dont - like you say, one gets a small treat when out with friends or finds a $1 coin on the footpath or something - well, it's X's lucky day isnt it original.gif

I also dont expect the rules in the house to be same as everyone elses - so,its not fair so and so is allowed to watch xyz TV program - oh well, thats their house, its not here, too bad.

And even within our hosue there are diferent rules for different people - its not fair, DS is allowed to stay up later than us -oh well, he is older than you ,too bad.

and the its not fair, X got the best chocolate in the box - oh well, he got there first , too trivial, too bad.

#8 red door

Posted 06 January 2012 - 12:44 PM

two minds. I think there is an awful lot of over indulging kids sense of  "I want" in our culture, and sure, that should be stopped, but there is also a whole section of our culture that is unnecessarily unfair and I DON'T think it is ok to tell our kids that they should just put up and shut up and allow injustice if they see it/ feel it/ are part of it.

I think by teaching our children that if there is a genuine lack of justice they should speak up we are also teaching them to hold THEMSELVES to account and think about how THEY go through the world and demand fairness and integrity from THEMSELVES.

a "put up and shut up" attitude allows many wrongs to go unchanged.

#9 Imaginary friend

Posted 06 January 2012 - 01:56 PM

QUOTE
and think about how THEY go through the world and demand fairness and integrity from THEMSELVES
  

Yes, good point.

I often remind my kids that the jumping up and down about some trivial unfairness to themselves doesnt seem to be equated with a similar outrage when they are on the beneficiary end of unfairness - by that I mean X does big fuss about Y got the best flavour ice block, its not fair (or some equally pathetic trivia that my kids squabble about) but conveniently forgets the day before when she picked first. rolleyes.gif

#10 Kylie Orr

Posted 06 January 2012 - 08:37 PM

Some great points made. Thanks!

I agree that the "Big Picture" is important to teach our kids but for the little ones can be a complicated concept. My eldest once complained about not having a particular toy and so I commented on all the toys he DID have and threatened to pack them up and send them to some little boy who had none. He wanted to know the boy's name! wink.gif

I like the idea of not getting caught up in the petty nature of fairness at a micro level and also making our kids accountable for their own responses and behaviour in relation to situation that are inequitable. Now I'd better get busy learning this myself!!

#11 KrisMs

Posted 06 January 2012 - 08:48 PM

We worry about fairness in terms of what we can do.... By that when my DD9 says that it's not fair that she has a peanut allergy, I do tell her to politely suck it up because we can't control it.  And the voice in my head thanks God that it's not something worse.





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