Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

11 Elul 5765 - September 15, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Home and Family

It's Not Fair!
by L. Raffles

And that's the truth! Is it fair that one child is born first and another last? The first will get more of mother's exclusive attention, but will often complain that the youngest gets more things and at a younger age than he ever did. Parents may often be more patient and accepting with the younger children than they were with their first. On the other hand, the oldest will have the privileges, such as they are, of being the oldest.

Is it fair that one child is born with a quiet compliant nature and another with a rowdy and difficult one? Is it fair that one is born to poverty and another to wealth? That one is born with grace and another is awkward? How many are the differences between people, even those born of the same parents, not to speak of the differences between those of different families?

Children want to see that the world is fair, and if you give more cake to one child than to another, then it will seem that you are favoring one child over another and they will let you know how unfair it is! Such a strong desire that things should be just is a good thing. But I can imagine many reasons why I might consider it more just to give one child more than another. Some of these reasons may be acceptable to the other children, some might not be.

As parents, we have a responsibility to give our children tools to deal with the world, and one very important lesson they need to learn is how to deal with the unfairness of the world. It's no use telling them that it isn't unfair — because it is! This is because their concept of fairness is 'sameness.' And as no two people are the same, life cannot appear fair. The first lesson is that 'fairness' is not 'sameness.'

It is very wrong to show preference for one child over another, or to appear to love one more than the other. But a mother who understands the needs of her children, and how they differ, may realize that this one needs more of something (attention, cake, money, music lessons etc.) right now, and that to provide that need in this case is not spoiling, it is not trying to favor one child, but is, in actuality, simply trying to provide something the child needs. And that providing it is in reality making things 'fairer.' The problem comes in getting the other children to understand this.

For example, it is not fair if a child who has learning difficulties gets more prizes to motivate him than a child that is excelling in class. A child has to learn that children have different life situations, and need different responses. Take another example: Imagine a child who is very ill and gets a lot of visits and toys and special things. The other siblings may find it quite easy to accept that the different circumstance of this child merit the extra attention and goodies. Just as they are not jealous of the illness, they are not jealous of the extras. If they have problems with this, then the parent may need to spend a lot of time explaining it. But what if there is an older sister who has to take on a lot of the baby sitting, cooking and shopping because of this situation. She may not be jealous of the sick child, or of his extra toys, but she might well start to feel overwhelmed by the demands on her. She will not complain, because the situation demands it, and she would feel very guilty to grumble. However a wise parent will understand that this child now needs something that the others do not need (although they might want it), and will find a way to 'square things,' that is, to make things more fair by giving her something extra. Depending on the circumstances, the finances and the nature and age of the girl, it might be anything from that extra piece of cake with a message 'you deserve something special for coming through for us at this time — thanks!'— to a trip abroad.

These sorts of situations arise all the time in a family, and one must constantly strive to get through the message that fairness is not sameness. That loving them all doesn't mean treating them all the same. And later in life, they will learn that Hashem deals with people the same way. This one gets married first in her class; this one is still waiting after the younger class has already married. This one has multitudes of children easily, this one struggles for each one, and this one is denied altogether. This one has a happy marriage and this one has a marriage that ends in divorce. This one has health and . . . . You get the idea.

If a person has a 'bee in his bonnet' about fairness, then he or she will have a very unhappy life. She will feel it is unfair when she doesn't catch a bus or when another is promoted over her. It can destroy family relationships because she will compare herself, and her husband, and her children with another's (obviously more accomplished) and find herself and her own family lacking. And she will feel that her life is too hard and that it's not fair! This is a person who has not accepted the unfairness of the world. She has not accepted that Hashem is in control.

This problem not only exists among our youngsters, but the older, married ones as well. For example, if you pay for the flights of the two older married boys and their spouses and kids to the first girl's wedding, then beware! What will be when it's the ninth, and there are that many more siblings, spouses and children! You won't be able to pay for everyone, and someone will complain.

People can be so lacking in sense (or a good training) that they do not realize for themselves that the situation has changed. What about the Pesach visits? If you pay for two or three married children to return with their children for Pesach, are you stuck with ten couples and their kids still returning, fifteen years down the line? The time might well come when you turn around and say 'Who's having US for Pesach this year?' Is it fair that the older ones got those trips and the younger ones didn't?

What of the family that had the resources to go to Eretz Yisroel for Succos. Is that fair on the younger ones who missed out because they came along after it was no longer practical? These things are not fair, if `fair' means `the same'. But that's life! No one chooses where they are born in the family, or how the financial resources of their parents change over the years.

A couple may start as poor kollel-leit, move to a struggling half work—half learn regime as long as they can manage, progress to a quite well-off, two parents working, stage. Weddings may reduce them to watching the finances again, and retirement might find them comfortable but with not too much extra. Obviously, each stage has to be understood by those around them, and what they can expect will vary. Is it fair?

Perhaps not, but that's the way it is. A parent who finds that what was possible before is no longer possible, should simply explain the situation, and not get bogged down in guilt because of calls of 'not fair'.

It is not our obligation to make our children happy; it is our obligation to give them the tools for them to create their own happiness, and one of these tools is coping with the unfairness of the world.


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