Monday, December 29, 2014

It's Not Fair!

I suppose it's inevitable that we will hear that phrase from our kids at some point.  This chapter of my life has my eldest son of 9 years shouting it from the mountain tops.  Add that to his recent desire to argue and/or question us multiple times daily and you have a recipe for frustration for all parties.  Michael is a rule follower but he also wants to understand the rules.  And if he sees a disparity, he is quick to call us out on it. I get this in concept but in practice, a parent can easily get to a point of glorious anger after having just about every action and decision questioned.

It was last night that he pushed me to that point.  I errupted but didn't go overboard in the car as we drove home from Grandma's house. It was sufficient to make a point and effectively communicate that his inquiries were no longer appreciated, that we were still firmly in charge, and that we were not accepting applications for the position of a third parent.  But I still felt guilty as he sat in the awkward quiet I had just created.  I still knew that answer was not a good one.  It's akin to "because I told you so".  And though I greatly understand that answer now, I always hated those kinds of answers as a child and knew he probably did as well.

So when we got home I pulled him aside for a little one-on-one meeting.  By the grace of God, who must have put these words and knowledge into me (because I am not this brilliant) I said something to this effect:

"Michael.  I agree with you.  We are not treating the three of you equally.  I think that is why you have concluded things are not always fair, right?  Well I am not really sure that is what you truly want and I have an example to illustrate my point.  On average you get to stay up one to two hours later than Joshua. If everything was equal, I would probably pick a bedtime a little later for him but earlier for you so that all of you go to sleep at the same time."

He quickly realized that scenario did not benefit him and said he preferred it the way it was.

"I am raising three completely different kids.  Even if you were all identical in personality (and they are NOT), you and your twin sister are different gender.  And Joshua is five years younger.  It may not be fair but I will raise you a bit different from how I raise your sister because there are some gender appropriate reasons to do so.  It may not be fair but I will always be five years behind you in what I am doing with Joshua.  Tonight when he was picking on you, I didn't feel the need to rescue you.  You are older, smarter, tougher, and I simply gave you the advice on how to handle him when he takes the opportunity to frustrate you.  When you pick on him I feel the need to protect him because you have all the advantages of being smarter, tougher, and older. So while its true that I am doing different things for each of you, I don't think its accurate to conclude that I am being unfair.  However, I am sure there are times that I am.  Remember I am learning along with you.  I have never had a nine year old until you turned nine a few weeks ago.  Let's agree to give each other room to learn and make mistakes, ok?"

I won't know until visible changes occur but he seemed to "get it" when this talk was over.  It was like a light bulb turned on and he realized that there were very good reasons for unequal treatment.  He further realized that for every occassion that these disparities were a disadvantage to him, there were several others that gave him the advantage.  If fair treatment is even possible, that is where the accounting will show it.  Not in the individual line items but in the final balance.


Michael Paine said...

I really appreciate this post because after working with kids for a long time I totally get this idea. Especially the idea that “Let's agree to give each other room to learn and make mistakes, ok?” This is one thing that has come up a bunch lately that my wife and I have been discussing. It seems that as a child there is understanding when mistakes happen, but when you grow up people act surprised, hurt, or angry if you make a mistake. I am not suggesting adults shouldn’t have accountability and expectations, but the simple fact is even so we don’t always get it right on the first take.

However, there seems to be a total lack of forgiveness and grace when it comes to doing things in life. Most of which, like you pointed out are things we are doing for the first time too. So I guess what I am suggesting is that we all pray to be more forgiving and have grace with each other because God does and knows we need it.

Jim said...

Thanks for the kind words. I agree this concept is a good one even for spouses and other issues. We are fallible no matter how you slice it and mistakes will be made. With my son, and he gets this from me to a degree, its about setting his expectations at a reasonable level. His tendency is to expect perfection which will always end in frustration.