Reflecting on priorities of family & work
“That’s not fair” has to be the phrase I hate more than any other in the English language; particularly when uttered by my kids or other kids with at least some amount of privilege. There are several things that really bother me about that statement that I want to try and communicate to my kids without just lecturing over and over and over again, which I know won’t work.
1. The world is not fair.
2. Nobody ever told you this.
3. The world is tilted in your favor much more than most.
4. Don’t act entitled.
Here’s what set me off. My kids get a weekly allowance. My son has been diligently saving up for a gecko. It’s taken him over 25 weeks to amass the sum of money he has and he has skipped buying souvenirs in gift stores, popsicles at school, and playing arcade games. He discovered the other day that he actually has enough money to buy his own Kindle Fire HD – which prompted my daughter to protest, “That’s not fair”. My daughter, who has been buying souvenirs, popsicles, and playing arcade games without regard. The girl who needed a new stuffie she saw and couldn’t resist the vending machine at the store. She is capable of saving as she saved for an American Girl doll a couple of years ago, so it’s not that she is completely impulsive in her spending.
Also, the girl who gets an allowance from her parents every week, has few wants and far fewer needs, and oh, by the way, has her own Chromebook laptop already. Fairness to her means that all things for her and her twin brother should be the same (at least for the things she wants). I hope I’m not painting my daughter as the villain and my son as the hero in this case – he has uttered this same statement numerous times.
Fairness is not equality – not in our household and not in the world. In working in education in under-served communities, I have always contended that what is equal is not always fair and what is fair is not always equal. Fairness is having the ability to attain the same outcome as anyone else and what everyone needs to attain that same outcome is different. Some kids and some teachers need more resources to be successful than others. If we give all kids the same thing all of the time, we’ll produce different outcomes for each kid – which is not fair, even though it is equal.
In the little microcosm of our house, both of our kids have the same opportunities to save their allowance to get what they want (within limit – a gecko may or not be part of that limit). We do not treat our kids equally as they have different needs in order to be successful, but in this case, they are being treated fairly and fairly equally. For instance, we spend more time with my son on learning math facts. We spend more time with my daughter fostering her creativity. We pay for my son’s piano and my daughter’s sports. It’s not equal, but it is fair. I don’t think my kids understand this nuance, but hope that they will one day.
So how do I communicate that to my kids? More importantly, how do I communicate that they are privileged that they get an allowance and most kids in this world don’t? Most kids, don’t have their own laptop and/or tablet or even access to one. They don’t have piano lessons or club sports. They don’t have parents that help the with math facts and creativity. Fairness for those kids and their families is a much different concept.
As we prepare our kids for the life they are going to lead, I want to them to not only understand the concepts of fairness, equality, and equity but also where they sit in the world in relation to those concept and how they can improve the world for those less privileged than they are. I’ve talked about this before in a prior blog as this is a high priority for me as a parent – and lecturing at them is not going to do it.
One thing we do is tied to their allowance. Our kids get $1 for every year old they are. They get to spend 40%, have to save 40%, and donate 20%. The spending account is what Luke has been saving. The “saving” account is for college and they cannot touch that. They spend their charity account money a few times a year, donating that money to an organization of their choice – for Luke, it’s usually a tortoise rescue and for Maya most recently it’s been a local animal rescue – ARF. Hopefully, we’re building habits of supporting those of less privilege – which for them means animals right now.
We also try to model for our kids. Modeling in an ongoing and consistent way has been proven to be the most effective way of fostering volunteerism and charity in kids, particularly discussing it with them and involving them in an on-going basis. My kids know I help at a school in Oakland and we talk about why. They know my wife volunteers regularly in our community and has organized fundraisers for other, needier communities and we talk about why. We involve them in choices around their philanthropy and will more and more around their volunteerism as they get older. Hopefully, they start to recognize that this is part of a fulfilling life and subsequently, have a healthy understanding of fairness.
What do you do? How do you teach your kids about fairness without preaching and lecturing?