Do You Keep Things Even in Your Family? Some thoughts

“Do I get a new book bag too?”

“Why did you read three books to Charlotte and I only get one? No fair!”

Do you see where this is going? Today I’m talking about the constant questions and comments on fairness and evenness when it comes to young children. Is it a thing in your home?   Christmas is coming. If you get one child a new pair of shoes, do you get the other one a new pair too? If your cheeky three-year-old grabs a sucker from her Halloween bucket after you said not to and it leads to your five-year-old wanting a sucker, do you give her a sucker too? For the record, I didn’t. And lately I’ve felt quite liberated after putting a halt to these patterns I found myself in where I was constantly trying to keep everything even.

Here was/is my dilemma. My two oldest girls are a year and a half apart, and despite having incredibly different personalities, both often expect to be doing the same thing all the time. On our most recent camping trip we dealt with our first bout of car sickness. We stopped at the nearest gas station for ginger ale and soup. Our middle child was so confused. Why couldn’t she have ginger ale or chicken soup too she wondered. ”We always eat together!”  Our oldest, Grace, ended up voluntarily sharing with her. But it did take some explaining that Grace was sick and we would eat the food we brought back at the campsite. And that just because Grace gets something, it doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone gets or even needs it.

I was reading a book once about siblings and this quote stuck out to me:  “We should treat our children uniquely and not equally.” Of course, we should! But why is that so hard sometimes?

Sometimes, it’s not the kids! We recently celebrated my oldest’s 5th birthday and I had to talk to my mother-in-law (who I love) out of buying both of my older kids a bike. She bought Grace one for her birthday and felt she should get Charlotte one so they could ride together.  Her generosity comes from a place of love, and I get that. Maybe it’s a generational thing? Or an American thing?

For me, I know exactly how I fell into this pattern. I can remember so clearly when I had Charlotte. Our oldest was only about 19 months old. I was still a new(ish) mom, hormonal and sleep-deprived, and felt constantly torn between wanting to spend time with my newborn and my other child. I remember spreading myself so thin. Looking back, I think the guilt I felt in those early days somehow translated into some of my parenting down the road, and wanting to make sure they both have my attention, love, and sometimes, strawberries. What’s put a concerted stop to this is watching my oldest two grow both together as sisters and apart as individuals, and noticing different personalities and interests and encouraging them to be aware of that. And also of course teaching them that cliche adage that life isn’t always fair.

 Here are a few things that are helping:

The Montessori approach (or at least how I understand it) to turns is a game-changer for the better. Instead of the “you can have a turn and then you can have a turn” ethos that I stood by for quite a while, for this past year, we have changed it to, “Grace is playing with this now. When she is finished she’ll let you know. There’s plenty more to do!”

Sometimes you know your children better than they know themselves.  As I said, our children always think they need to be doing/eating/getting the same things. The thing is though, they’re very different. The other day we were in line at a festival downtown for face painting. The kids could pick between getting their face painted or a bug tattoo from a different booth. Grace (very outgoing and loves all things art-related) wanted her face painted and Charlotte followed suit. As we were waiting in line, I explained to Charlotte that I was happy to wait with her to get her face painted but she didn’t have to if she didn’t want to. And that I also knows she likes bugs and just think about which one she’d like to do because she could just do one. I didn’t push anything after that. She thought for a few minutes and eventually, she turned to me and said that she didn’t want her face painted and she wanted the bug tattoo. Ta-da!

Always parent first out of love/compassion and not guilt/fear. Easier said than done but an important reminder, especially for me. Say Charlotte takes a lot longer to settle in at night with an extra book or two. If Grace inquires about it, instead of worrying about Grace feeling slighted, I focus on Charlotte’s needs in that moment. I explain to Grace that she’s never had an issue settling into bed at night, we’ve read her story and now it’s time to rest. “I love you and sweet dreams!” 🙂

Would love to know your thoughts on this topic, especially with any specific examples on what works for your family in certain scenarios such as holidays, turns, etc.

P.S. I snapped these photos of the girls in the mountains a few weekends ago. They were so sweet to one another all weekend, sharing, taking turns, etc.. So maybe teaching a bit of balanced fairness and inclusiveness has its place too? Xx


Comments (6)

Lizzy in Minnesota
December 5, 2019

I love this post and it’s something I struggle with (especially as both my husband and I are only children; no frame of reference for sibling relationships!). I ironically, decided to commit to individual (instead of ‘even’) parenting after a close friend told me that her parents’ attempt to keep things even had caused feelings of jealousy in an older sister that still exist today! The sister is constantly watching to see how much the parents give to other siblings (whether that be attention, time, or material items) to make sure she is receiving the same amount and everything is ‘even’. My own parenting experiences (2 1/2 and 5 year old girls) has shown me that my kids need different things at different times, and often don’t make a big deal out of things being ‘even’ unless you make a big deal out of it as a parent.

Addie in North Carolina
December 5, 2019

Glad to read I’m not the only one that struggles with this! And I absolutely agree, focusing on their individual needs is more important and impactful than worrying about keeping things even which really can backfire, long term. It’s so hard but I’m trying 🙂

December 5, 2019

Such a useful article! I can guarantee I’ll be referring back to this in the near future. I particularly like the Montessori Approach to taking turns – so simple and hopefully, effective!

S Hughes
December 6, 2019

Thank you for writing this…Food for thought! ♥️

December 9, 2019

Love this post! I have no experience with this as I’ve only just had my first child, but when I have others, I hope I will focus on the child’s individual needs rather than keeping things even. I think there may be opportunities in these circumstances to teach the sibling (who didn’t receive whatever it is) to feel happy or compassionate about his/her sibling receiving something.

July 6, 2020

This is so interesting! We have been a Montessori family since our daughters were 2 (they are now 10, 9 and 6) and have done the take turns approach. My hard point is buying things like clothes. If we buy my oldest a new pair of sneakers my second wants a pair, and my third just gets the hand me downs. I know I do it out of guilt and wanting to make everything fair. I bought them all bags of the same style so I wouldn’t hear (It’s not fair). And do any of them use them? Nope. I am going to implement all of this and be firm, because you are right. They are individuals and not the same.

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