I'm just curious how everyone does this.
I'm not talking just about things that result in fights, but, yeah, that too.
I'm also talking about things like, for example, if my daughter gets invited on to (insert your special team or event here) do you try to create some kind of parity for the other kids?
When they want to go to different parks.
When one wants to stay home and the other wants to go somewhere.
I'm talking about differences that naturally come with age, and times when age is irrelevant. Also, differences of ability, skill, talent.
I'm asking about hurt feelings. Or perhaps not hurt feelings, just about allocation of time and resources and a parent's sense of fairness.
I'm asking about day-in-day-out life and also about schooling and unschooling and special events and classes.
Oooh, suddenly this is a big question. What made me think of this is not so much a current problem (well, the stay home/ go out decisions can get hairy) but because my oldest did get invited on the team, and it made me think.
Give me a few minutes while I caffeinate.
If one of my kids got invited to something, but the other didn't, I don't think I would plan something to try to replace it. I would probably offer sympathy if she was upset and ask if there is something that would make her feel better. I think you just have to deal as it comes up. You could drive yourself seriously crazy trying to predict and prevent conflict. Fairness is a subjective concept. I try to express my feelings honestly and listen when they tell me something doesn't feel fair so they have a positive example and can learn to communicate with empathy. I think it is more effective to have them ask each other for support or generosity than it is to try to distribute resources exactly evenly all the time. It's an impossible standard to hold to and someone will always feel cheated. That is just how it has been with my kids; yours may have a stronger rivalry due to temperament or the closeness of their ages.
First off, with regards to the petty stuff like who gets the good seat in the car, or who gets dibs on the computer that works ... I stay out of that. I don't want to get caught in sibling conflict, with my pronouncements in favour of one child or another seen as a sort of family trump card. I tell my kids that I trust them to work it out, though if they both come to me for help figuring out a solution I am willing to facilitate -- not judge, but facilitate.
For the more complicated stuff like allocation of family time and money, in general I make no effort to be fair in the simplistic sense. I've tried to teach my kids from the start that fair does not mean equal, it means "to each according to his needs," and of course needs vary as we go through life. We talk about a lot of this stuff at family meetings. But sometimes I take one or more kids aside to fill them in, in confidence, about an issue I've identified with another sibling's needs. This always feels a little delicate to me, to be discussing my parenting insights about Child A with Child B, and I think one has to be careful in doing so. I wouldn't do so if I felt there was any risk of Child B using that insight as ammunition against Child A, or of Child B feeling like he was being cast in the role as secondary parent, or of Child A feeling her privacy is being violated by the parent discussing her inner life with a sibling. But I think in larger families like ours (four kids) where there has to be a lot of give and take, it helps to build the empathy and understanding that is necessary for mutually supportive family life.
I want my kids to understand that living in a family means juggling and prioritizing complicated equations ... factors including self-esteem, and developmental needs, and individual personalities, as well as superficial fairness. So I'll explain why I think a certain child's desires should get more priority. "This is really important to him and is something he's dreamed about doing for years. He's growing up, and for teenagers being involved working with groups of other teens and adults tends to become really important. It allows them to see how that they can be valuable contributors to the world beyond the family. So this is the perfect time for him to have this opportunity and I would love us to be able support him in it." Or "This is fulfilling a physical activity need for her, and as you know suitable physical activities have been hard to find for her." Or "Last fall they had to give up their Wednesday afternoons for you to do soccer and that wasn't always easy. I don't think it's unreasonable to ask you to inconvenience yourself for a few weeks now for them." Or "The past year has been kind of rough for her. Shanna moved away and you three have all got busy with your own lives away from home. She really needs something fresh and new and exciting for herself. This seems like a chance to give her that." Or "I've noticed that he's been unhappy and grumpy a lot lately. I think he feels unappreciated. Here's our chance to express a bit of appreciation. I think it might be good to do a few nice things for him ... and hopefully he's get a little easier to live with if he feels more valued. All we can do is try."
If one kid gets some special opportunity, I don't try to engineer something similar for the others, but I will validate their feelings of being left out and try to support them during the time the special stuff is happening for the other. Often I'll suggest the left-behind child and I spend some special time together. We might go out for a café date, or bake something together, or go for a walk, or play a board game. I guess what I'm trying to do is to nurture their inner selves through positive connections with me, so that they have the resilience to cope with the "unfairness" of life at the moment. "I know this is hard for you right now," I'll say, "but at least we can have a nice time together." It seems to make a big difference.
I tend to be less of a leader than a collaborator by nature, but juggling resources and opportunities between my kids is one area where I've felt comfortable being a leader. And fortunately my kids seem to respect my insights and appreciate that I'm doing my best sorting through all these priorities. Sometimes they have alternative suggestions of ways to solve conflicts or to compensate for sacrifices. I try to listen open-mindedly and adapt based on what they say. But then I simply state what I think we should do, and my reasoning. They may sigh and wish life were otherwise, but they almost always accept my distillation of how priorities ought to work out.
Mountain mama to three great kids and one great grown-up
I struggle with this too, but what I aim to do is to treat each of my kids as individuals and do as little comparing as possible. If one of my kids was invited to be part of something that the others were not included in, I wouldn't try to make it fair. I have a couple reasons-- first, anything that comes from me is different from what comes from other people, and so anything I do just adds to the unfairness, and second, I think that trying too hard to protect them from their disappointment might send them the message that I think the disappointment is more than they can handle.
When one wants to go somewhere and another wants to stay home, I consider first whether or not we've got plans to meet someone, and, if not, whether we've been at home a lot lately or out and about a lot, and I make a call. I encourage the person who'd rather stay home to bring something quiet to do, since typically they want to stay home because they aren't feeling especially social.
We're getting to a point where we could be running all the time, and I have started just telling the kids we can't add anything else. I try to be kind and to make the really important stuff happen, but we just can't do it all!