I think that sometimes as parents, we waste too much energy on trying to keep things equal amongst our kids in the hopes of avoiding sibling rivalry. One child gets guitar lessons? Then we better sign the other one up for ballet. One child gets a new pair of shoes? Then we need to take the other one shopping for fashion boots. And the more we try to keep things “fair” and balanced- the harder it is to maintain. Why? Because we are teaching our kids to expect it! I’ve learned that in our large family– this just does not work!
You just don’t want to create the model that dictates when one child gets a new coat because her sleeves barely reach her wrist that the other kids should expect a wardrobe upgrade as well- whether or not they actually need one.
You want to avoid teaching them to make comparisons with one another and to expect things to be equal. Which leads to sibling rivalry.
Truly, “fair and equal” is just not how life works! Should it really be how a household with kids functions?
Sibling Rivalry: Not Every Child Has the Same Needs or Wants
I firmly believe in encouraging our kids to find a passion- whether that’s a sport, a hobby, or a love of being outdoors- but I want them to pursue an interest that is meaningful and creates value for them.
For a period of time, one of my kids was very passionate about soccer, and he played for a travel team that took up both a large financial as well as a large time commitment. While this was going on, my youngest child had no desire to participate in any team sport, take a class, or sign up for any kind of activity. Clearly, we were in an unequal state here. But it was what worked at the time for everyone!
There was no need for me to make myself crazy trying to find something for my youngest that would be in balance with the investment we were making with my oldest son. The only person who might have gained contentment with an equal and balanced situation, in this case, would have been me! Not my youngest son!
“Fair” specifically means meeting the needs or wants of each child without regard to equality.
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Sibling Rivalry: Different Ages and Different Abilities Call for Different Rules
Instagram. Once kids get a cell phone, that seems to be the very next request- for an Instagram account. And somewhere around the age of 11, we usually consent.
Except when we choose not to. Because not every kid is ready for the responsibility that comes along with having a social media account. Some kids understand perfectly what is an acceptable post and comment, and other kids are not quite ready for the nuances of taking their friendships online.
We make the decision based on the child. Not based on what they might deem as “fair.”
A child with special needs might get a larger amount of the family’s time and resources- from driving to tutoring or therapist appointments, to financial investments for tuition or special programs. This isn’t “fair or equal,” but it is important and necessary.
The fact is that each child at each age is different from one another- and decisions need to be made that support that child at that time. Without regard to what we may have done in the past, or what might feel “fair.”
Sibling Rivalry: Constant Balancing Leads to Comparison
When it comes to helping out around the house, I have given up on chore charts, weekly job assignments, and allowances. I tried these things in the past but found that I spent too much time “managing to the plan.” Nagging them to use the chart, making sure job assignments were balanced and “fair,” etc.
Do you know what works better at our house? When I need something done- I call out to one of the kids, and I assign the task. “Kyle- please set the table,” “Lili please take the garbage out to the garage,” “Jack I need you to unload the towels from the dryer and put them away please.” And to be honest, I don’t keep track of how many assignments I’ve given out to each child all week long.
Sure- I try to spread out the workload (since many hands make light work!) but I don’t care if Spencer did four things and Charlotte only did two. And if they start to question, “Why do I have to do XYZ? Why not so-and-so?” I refuse to indulge in the conversation. I create no expectations of balance, so I don’t indulge conversations around “fair and equal” division of work.
I also take into account the fact, that some of my kids LOVE to help me around the house- especially in the kitchen. So those kids are “invited” to help more often- is that “fair”? Maybe not- but it is perfectly fine with them (and with me!).
Sibling Rivalry: There Will Always Be Advantages/Disadvantages to Being the Oldest or the Youngest
Older children cause us to make new parenting decisions all of the time, “Should he get a phone when he starts middle school?”, “What is the right age to see a PG-13 movie?”, “When can she stay home alone?”.
So you do your research (read blogs, ask friends, ask your Mom), and you make a decision. And then you learn from that decision. Sometimes it will work to the older child’s advantage (yes, he got to see a PG-13 movie at age 10, but after not being able to sleep for a week due to nightmares, you know not to make that mistake again!).
And sometimes they work out to that child’s disadvantage. Our oldest went to middle school with a phone that didn’t have texting capabilities outside of WiFi- but we learned that it doesn’t work for us. So now each of our newly minted middle schoolers starts grade 6 with a phone that is on our family voice/text/data plan).
That’s just part of being the oldest kid. It is that child’s job to pave the way and “break the parents in.”
And the same is true if you are one of the younger kids. You are the one that owns a disproportionate amount of hand-me-downs. But you are also the one who likely gets an iPad a good two years earlier than the oldest child did. You reap the rewards of the sibs that came before you- and you get to wear their old clothes while doing it.
That’s just a part of being the youngest child.
Is it “fair”? It doesn’t matter.
It’s just the way it is.
Keep Your Goals In Mind
My goal isn’t to raise a household of kids in an environment that is always “fair and equal.” My goal is to help each child become a full-fledged adult who is ready to lead a meaningful and fulfilling life.
Sometimes the road to get there is unbalanced among the kids. But if I can look back on parenthood in a few years (okay- decades) and see that I achieved my goal? It won’t matter if things were “fair.” I’ll have done my job!
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What do you think? How much time do you spend considering what is fair and balancing expenditures and commitments among your kids?