WFMW: Life isn’t fair

Shelby asked a question long, long ago, and Great Big Procrastinator that I am, it is still in my file of things to do, so I’ll take a stab at answering her now.

…How do you handle “fairness” with so many children? I was raised by a mother on the force of the fairness police ;). She counted our M&M’s…down to the color :). She relaxed a bit as we got older but I don’t know how to handle certain things at this point. Take bread making for instance. All of my children want to help me and make their own little loaf but there is only so much dough ;)! I love giving my toddler a ball of dough to play with like her sisters got to as toddlers but then they all come running for some and I feel like “mean mom” if I turn any away. At this point I think I may need to switch from making bread to making sub rolls ;), heehee.
Any thoughts? ~Shelby

I posted a while back on the issue of fairness in 7 Kids, 1 Sucker. Now What? but the subjects bears revisiting. What mother has not heard her children cry, at some point, “No fair!”?
My canned response (which the other children know, and often say before I can) is, “Life isn’t fair. If it were, we would all go to hell.”
That’s the short easy answer.
The longer answer is that fair is not the same as equal. Our children are not all the same and we do not treat them the same. The older ones have privileges and responsibilities that the younger ones do not. They each have differing strengths and weaknesses, besetting faults and special virtues. To treat them all the same would be…dare I say it?…unfair.
Having said that, there are certain areas where we strive for equality and others where we don’t. It is, in my mind, a delicate balance. On the one hand, we want some sense of equity so that our children don’t think that we have favorites. On the other hand, we don’t want them to feel as if going on the next outing is a right to be demanded.
This will work out differently in every family, and it works out differently week by week in our house. The point is to strive to treat our children justly.
When we make bread or pizza crust, the kids love to have a lump of dough for themselves. If I plan ahead, I might have enough for everyone. If not, I might only say yes to the first one or two who ask. If the same child always asks first, I might tell her no, we’ll let another sister do it this time.
When I go to town, I often take a child or two with me. Sometimes I need help and take bigger ones; sometimes I don’t need help and take a smaller one purely for fun. It would be impractical to take strict turns, because I wouldn’t always have the best companion for each particular trip, but I do try to see that each child gets a turn now and then.
As for counting M&M’s, I don’t sweat the details. If they grumble, I remind them not to covet, because this is coveting: the grumbling child is not unhappy that she has 10 M&M’s, but that her sibling has 12. If the sibling had 10 a coveting spirit would be satisfied. I ask ever-so-sweetly, “Are you unhappy with the M&M’s you have? Would you like to give them back?”
They may grumble occasionally but they understand that this is the way things work. Life is not fair, and nobody really wants it to be.


  1. Treasurekeeper says:

    Thank you for taking the time to answer my question Kim! We’ve been out of town for a while so I just saw it :). The real irony in the situation is that I have greatgirls who seldom complain about the “fairness” of a thing (though they DO have their moments ;)). I am just hypersensitive about “fairness” myself. Thank you for your insights, I have never thought of using a comeback like “Life isn’t fair. If it were, we would all go to hell.”. How true, and that would get the point across, now wouldn’t it :)? Thank you for confirming for me that it is O.K. to be “unfair” ;).

  2. A couple of different things came to mind. One man had only 2 children. They fought constantly over the equality thing. He would give them one of many things, so that they had to share. For instance, they would get one candy bar to share instead of two. One of them cut the bar into the two pieces, but the other child got to pick which half he wanted.

    As far as always wanting to get to do something…. I heard another story that has been used many times in my life. A homeschool mom took her 6 children to the mall for something. While they were there, she bought them each a small vanilla ice cream cone. They were enjoying it immensely. A man came over and asked her what her magic trick was. It appeared that her children were actually grateful for and enjoying a small vanilla cone. He said his children were not happy unless it was the largest sundae or a banana split. I loved her answer. She told him that when her children were no longer grateful or happy with a small vanilla cone, they would not get anything bigger, but they would get less small vanilla cones. I love the lesson there.

  3. Michelle B. says:

    My dad would always tell us in response to “it not fair” “Life’s not fair” and as far as sharing things if my siblings and I were to share something than one person would split it and the other two got to pick first so we were encourage to not try and make things uneven. Of course if we complained than we didn’t have to have any.

  4. ladyofvirtue says:

    Kim, if anyone would know that “fair” doesn’t work in a family, it would be the oldest of 14! I imagine your mom and dad learned that early on–I know we did around here.Good post.


  5. Good post young lady. Fairness is actually a cloak for envy.

  6. Coeur d'Court says:

    In our family growing up, we got no extra attention by exclaiming, “it’s not fair!” The only response we got was, “Life isn’t fair.” I plan to raise my kids with the same mindset because as an adult, I soon learned the truth in what Dad always said: no, life is NOT fair. Why try to make it “fair” if you want your child to be the best prepared to live in a real world?

    Great thoughts Kim!

  7. “Life isn’t fair. If it were, we would all go to hell.”

    Exactly! I often tell my kids that I don’t want ‘fair’ and neither do they. I don’t really want what’s coming to me. I’d much rather accept and enjoy God’s mercy than demand His justice!

  8. Org Junkie says:

    Great post Kim! I’ve never thought of it that way, thanks!

  9. The Homeschool and Etc. Blog says:

    I still remember being five and eating some Oreos. I asked my brother if he wanted one and of course he said YES! I said, “Well ya can’t have one! Ha ha ha haa!”

    And do you know what my mean mother did? She made me give him one of MY Oreos for my bad attitude! Yes, she did! I still remember feeling very angry about it because it wasn’t FAIR!

    Being kind to others and not coveting are *really* hard lessons to learn. I’m not sure any of us are there yet but at least I know not to pull that on my brother again! While my mom is watching, anyway LOL! (kidding)

    Mrs. C.

  10. Christine says:

    Thank you for your great advice, Kim. These situations can get a bit hairy, and it can be challenging to know how to best deal with them. I think it is critical to teach one’s littles that life is not always going to dish up the same thing for all. I truly appreciate your wisdom.

  11. Latte-n-Libre says:

    very well said. Thank you for the reminder that fairness does not mean equal. It was just the thing I needed to hear.

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