Reading Yondalla's blog about fairness has made me ponder this murky subject even more than usual. Fairness is something I confess to sort of obcessing about. I know life isn't fair. But part of me feels like families should be. That should be the one place where you don't have to feel that you were treated unfairly. Yet in real life, especially with 4 kids, that is a lot harder to put into practice than it sounds. Some facets of it, are not hard. We have a few traditions in our house that help to keep things fun and fair for everyone. Everyone has chores based on their age and ability. For instance, Lissa not yet 2 can and does with help take our napkins to the hamper after supper each night. She can and does put her clothing in the hamper before bath. She can and does pick up toys. And it goes on from there for each of the older kids. Chores based on abilities. Chores are not paid for, though the kids do receive allowances. I don't pay for chores because I subscribe to the philosophy that we are all working together to make our family healthy and happy and since no one pays either Kirsty or I to clean and cook, I shouldn't pay the kiddos for that either. Rather, allowances are an opportunity to have some spending money and to learn about savings.
So chores seem fair and straightforward and I honestly think the kids feel that way too. I think by and large birthdays and Yule feel fair to them also. We have a tradition of family parties for birthdays and they all seem to love helping to make decorations, wrap gifts, and be part of making the day special for the recipient. At Yule each kid has the same number of gifts to open. If it is a "big gift" it is either a family gift for everyone, or the subsequent gifts will be meaningful but have less monetary value.
The murky part of fairness stems more around their differing abilities and I think the person who feels the "un" fairness most is my eldest. Hampered by his Aspergers and his inability to read social situations there are so many things he has not been able to do. Go to away camp for instance. He wasn't really able to hold it together even when we went to a family oriented camp. Too much stimulation,too much variation in routine. Rob went to a camp for a week away this summer and loved it and had a totally positive experience. Chet could not do organized team sports. Again the stimulation, the noise of cheering parents, the fact that things changed unpredictably were not situations he could deal with. He would up climbing into the goalie cage for soccer and hanging from it like Spider Boy and shrieking. Trust me, coaches don't love kids who do that! :-) He could and did succeed at sports that allowed him to progress on his own. Swimming and karate were both achievable for him. But Robbie got to be on Little League this year, again something big brother couldn't experience.
Another issue that comes up is the fact that what is logical behavior to expect from a 2 year old or a 4 year old is not always acceptable for a 23 year old. Thus, I may say to Lissa who is tantrumming "You need to stop and use your inside voice." To Chet I would be more stern and say "You know that I am not going to have a conversation when you are screaming disrespectfully at me."
I notice that I hear the "fairness" complaint most from Chet and it usually centers around the things the other children are doing. It is most often expressed as "How come I never did that?" There is a hurt there, that all my love and all my talking can't erase. The reality is, there are many things that all the other kids will do that Chet will not do. He will not drive a car. He will likely have a hard time finding a mate. He will likely not have a full time job. He understands those realities but I think that he sort of puts them out of his mind much of the time. I know I do as well. Then he sees one of the other kids do something and it sort of smacks him up side the head.
Or I will hear on occasion " Now if I did that, you'd scream at me." The reality is I very rarely raise my voice. My wife, descended of Vikings--that is a different matter. I feel no one hears something if it is yelled. They hear the yelling not the message. But for Chet, the sentence isn't about me yelling. He will even admit if I ask him outright that I wasn't yelling at him. It is what he says when he feels that he has been treated unfairly. I have to say things like "yes, I would tell you to stop that in a way that is age appropriate for you" But I worry for the underlying unfairness that he feels. An unfairness that equal presents can't fix, that all the hugs and explanations can't fix.