Fair is Not Equal


My birthday falls a few days from Christmas. And I am a twin.

Growing up this was what I called the biggest rip-off ever.

Not only was my birthday never celebrated at school because we were already out on winter holidays, but I had to share my day with someone. And often I had to share gifts. And usually we got the exact same gift.

I’m sure a lot of the twin-ness of our gifts had to do with convenience. But I am also sure some if had to do with making sure things were fair.

I hear this a lot from parents and grandparents about gift giving. Need to make sure everyone gets an equal number of gifts. Need to make sure I spend the same amount on each grandchild. Need to make sure that my love is perceived as equal to all.

I am determined not to succumb to this as a parent.

Fair is not equal.

My mother loaned me money so I could pursue my Olympic dream. She took out a second mortgage to make this happen.

Did she take out a second mortgage to help any of my siblings pursue a masters degree? No. They went out and got student loans.

I have four sisters and one brother and we have all been treated fairly but none of us has been treated equally. Some of us needed financial support more than emotional support. Some of us needed a place to live in our twenties and some of us needed someone to cry to.

We all had and still have different levels of resilience in our emotional and financial lives. My mother, who is an amazing woman, responds to each of us individually with what we need from her rather than a carbon copy of support for each of us.

We were all different teenagers requiring different guidance and help. The youngest was at home when the rest of us had flown the nest. I remember being shocked to come home on a break from university and see her get the family car for the evening and $20 to go to the movies. When I was her age I paid for movies out of my babysitting money. I paid for the gas to go to see those movies out of my babysitting money. If I didn’t have it I didn’t go.

But fair is not equal. And my mother giving my sister things I never got does not mean she loves her more or cares for her more.

Stop keeping score.

Now that we’re overseas we don’t get quite the avalanche of gifts for Henry as we did when we lived close to family. Which I am thrilled with.

My mother and mother-in-law still spoil him rotten with boxes of gifts on his birthday and Christmas and the occasional surprise, but he probably gets fewer gifts than his cousins. And that’s just fine.

It doesn’t mean he is less loved or cared for. It does mean I don’t have to go through the toy inventory as often.

I know I still have a young child and I know I still have an only child but I really hope that I can create a family life where every special outing or Matchbox car isn’t written on a scoreboard. I really hope I can give my son what he needs and not always what he wants or thinks is equal to those around him.

Buying in both literally and figuratively to equality in gifts and possessions is a big part of clutter and owning more than you need.

How do you deal with making things fair and equal? If you have more than one child do you find it challenging to not have a tab running of who got what?


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  • hi, have just found your blog-agree with you.

    We have a 6 + 4 year old (pigeon pair). I think I’m going a bit insane with the fair/not fair comments that they both make, but we are perservering with it.

    It seems a little weird to me for others to talk about evening out the score, so to speak, for the $$$ they spend on their kids for christmas- my kids are only now learning about money in the sense that they have to earn it, but if they receive what they really desired, does it really matter what the value of the item was?

    Life isn’t fair and I guess its our job to show them that they can survive it- whether it be being asked to help out around the house (my 6 yr DD complained today that she was her brother’s slave when I asked her to get their PJs ready for their bath) or being invited to separate birthday parties.

    I have a bigger problem getting our family to spend time, rather than money on the kids- I now need to draw the line so that our parents spend more time across all grandkids, rather than a singular preferred grandchild.

    • So true, Vanessa, life isn’t fair. While I want my son to grow up feeling secure and confident and loved, I also want him to grow up knowing that he may not, and probably will not, get everything he dreams of in this life.

  • Back in 1999, my soon-to-be in-laws were very concerned about Y2K, and wanted to buy each child a generator. My then-fiance’s siblings lived in the same rural area as their parents, and a generator was a good idea even without the threat of worldwide catastrophe. It took a fair amount of convincing that we, as city dwellers, had access to shelter, food, and water even if we lost power. We did not need a generator to feel as valued. We didn’t even need the cash equivalent at the time, but they wouldn’t hear of it, so we just used the money toward a honeymoon.

    I just had a conversation with my brother a couple of weeks ago, in which he apologized for being the center of attention in our house. He felt that my sis and I were unfairly ignored while my parents spent time at his ball games and whatnot. Which was funny, because for years, I felt bad that my parents were so invested in my sister and me that my brother was ignored. We all got what we wanted, but didn’t realize it at the time.

    I, too, am a twin. My mom did a great job of treating us as individuals, even though we really are very similar. It would have been easier to treat us the same, but she didn’t. When we were babies, a woman at our church gave us matching dresses, and my mom had the audacity to put one of us in one, and the other in a completely different dress. She didn’t hear the end of it. Society demands fairness, but doesn’t really know what it is.

    I now have three kids. I have not fallen into the trap that everything must be done equally for them, but they really want it to be so (“Mom, he got ice cream, and I didn’t! It’s not fair!” – this was after the eldest had his tonsils out). The hard part is teaching them the same things I have learned – I can love them all equally, but I can’t love them the same, because they are all different.

  • I tell my boys…we share all the toys in this family. ( the in this family excuse i use a lot). Also, when baby brother first came along i said lots of things like isn’t it nice to be able to enjoy brothers presents too and you’re so lucky to have a little brother now there is twice as many toys ( even if there is not). I try not to buy too much, in fact my younger turns 2 tomorrow and not even sure what to get him (relatives sent $ and i want him to open something). Most things a 2 year old wants/needs we already have for my older. Also, i always let each boy pick a present for the other, even if it is something they really want, though i do encourage them to think about the other person (they are 2 and 4 so that doesn’t really resonate).

    • We are really working on sharing lately with our son. He has friends that are twins and they are both so good about sharing toys and food. I’m really trying to encourage him and get over the “mine” phase he is in. Baby steps. :)

  • First, I hear you on the birthday thing. I’m in-between Christmas and New Years and fell on my parent’s 3rd wedding anniversary! However, despite my grouchiness toward birthdays, my parents always did a great job making it special.

    Secondly, I love what you have to say in this post! It really resonates with me. Especially when it comes to being on the receiving end. I don’t ever want my parents or in-laws treating my husband and I exactly as they treat our siblings– be that through gifts, financially, or emotionally. We are all very, very different with often opposite needs.

  • I loved this post, because I think it is such an important lesson for kids growing up. My two boys are now 22 and 20. When they were growing up and one went to a birthday party and came home with “the treat bag”, I would always tell the one with the treat bag that it was up to them if they wanted to share; but remember ‘that’ when your brother gets one. Sometimes they shared, sometimes not, until eventually they would always offer the other one something.

    I really feel that teaching kids they are individuals and that life isn’t fair is really missing from our society right now. When I would hear the “he got that – that’s not fair” I would usually respond – ” Well he’s my favourite”. I can hear you all gasping right now; but I used a lot of humour with my kids growing up and when you always say that to both kids they eventually get it that mom doesn’t have a favourite – or that they may feel like a favourite at certain times when they get what they need.

    Something as simple as teaching kids to be grateful for what they have and saying “thank you” is also important.

    I would also tell each of them what their talents/skills were compared to their brothers and that they were both so good at different things. One played indoor soccer, baseball, and is a computer whiz. The other played hockey, ball hockey, and is very social and would get invited to many birthday parties. When one had a game or tournament we expected the other to always come and vice versa. This was to teach them to support their brother and that we did things as a family. Many times we would be eating out before or afterwards and with other families and it was fun for all. When the kids reached the age where they could stay home alone you’d see a lot less siblings of other families at games; but we still expected ours to come.

    I know it’s worked because now that the boys are moving out on their own, they reach out to each other for help at what the other is good at. They have expressed support for each other and that’s probably what I’m most proud of.

  • It just kills me when one kid has a birthday & gets the typical gifts…but then the sibling(s) also get a few gifts so he/they “won’t feel left out”. Wth? Since when did you have to start to give birthday gifs to ALL the kids when it’s not even their own birthday? Over-indulgance & pacifying is not a trait to instill in kids. It’s bad parenting.

    • Agreed!! We are experiencing this as we await the arrival of our son this month – my mom went shopping and found something for our daughter and called to see what our son (in utero) might need because she wanted to get him something too. Oh yie!

  • Awesome! My parents often got me and my sister the same presents for Christmas, but as we got older, they just decided to spend the same amount of money for each of us for birthdays and Christmas. My husband and I have decided that we are just going to do 3 gifts for each kid (we just have 1 now) for Christmas, in addition to the Santa stocking. For one kid, that might mean a racing bicycle. For the other, it might be a sweater. I am hoping that knowing our children closely will help them to feel that we got them what they actually want and need…and that at least when they get older, they will see that as “fair.”

  • I have a younger sister. Almost exactly 1 year difference of age, so to some extent we were treated like twins (especially that she was sent to school early so we were always in the same class).
    For me this was mostly horrible. I was the older, so when it was convenient (for adults), I had more responsibility, more was expected of me and I would get fewer presents. Then there were times, when we were treated *almost* like twins, so – the same clothes, the same treats, the same gifts, the same crayons etc. nevermind that one liked blue and the other orange. Here nobody would notice I was older and may want/deserve/need more/different. And then there were times, when parents acknowlegded our differences, but were still clueless as to what to do with them, after all, they were both single children and never had guts to ask anybody for help.
    We never knew what to expect. Sometimes each would get her birthday gifts separately and sometimes the other would also get something. Many times the one, which had birthday in July would not get extra gifts in June and the one who had birthday in June would get extra gifts in July. This double gift-receiving started when we were quite old, so it was even more disturbing – why it was always fine that birthday was one’s day and now the other also gest gifts like she was a small baby? Why do we have to share even our own birthdays?
    Oh yes, sharing. I could write a book about my parents’ cluelessness about owning and sharing toys and space between siblings. Here I’ll just say, that we had to hide from them our rules about which toy was whose and pretend we shared almost everything. Funny thing is, when we tried to really share toys with neighbours’ kids – we got grounded. You know, people say that single children are selfish and don’t share, so many parents force them to share with/give toys to other kids. They were raised to know about losing toys to neighours’ kids but didn’t understand sharing.
    In our first home we used to have two rooms, but both shared! When we moved I was about 13 and for 3 months we didn’t even enter the other’s room, such was our need for being separate.
    This all would be less devastating if everybody was consequent – either treat us like twins or like different girls.
    I am all for treating children of any age as autonomous, different beings.

  • I think there is a massive difference in what you are discussing when it comes between tangible and intangible items. Yes, kids need to learn that each will not receive the exact same monetary support throughout life. However, I’m a firm believer that rules need to be the same for all children. One thing I really applaud my parents for is keeping rules the same for all three of us. Despite gender, “maturity level”, etc., we all had the same curfews at the same ages, had to pay for all the same stuff, etc. When you give children different rules, like you having to pay for gas and your sister not, it teaches the kids different values. For example, The Hubs had to pay for everything, even his sport. However his little brother hasn’t had to pay for anything! Subsequently, this little brother finds little value and appreciation in anything. Yet with my siblings and I, we hold very similar values when it comes to work ethic and value because we were all taught the same and equal things. Thus, I’m a big believer in fair and equal rules for ALL children, but not necessarily when it comes to the stuff department.

    • Megyn – I don’t agree with you on this. While your example of your husband and his brother is compelling I don’t think it is fair to say all children that get more financial assistance than their siblings will have little value and appreciation for things.
      Perhaps your brother-in-law is a different person than your husband. Perhaps he has needed more encouragement and assistance than your husband to find his way and be successful at what he chooses. Can you blame his parents for wanting to help him succeed?
      My younger sister got to go to more volleyball camps and worked less in high school than I did. I think this encouragement from my mother did wonders for her and while she took some detours and had some struggles, she is a pretty amazing 32 year old woman now with a fantastic job, great work ethic and kind heart. I’m not so sure she would be where she is today if my mother hadn’t recognized that this child of hers needed more from her financially than her siblings.
      I hope I can do the same for my children.

      • It’s not just financial assistance, but the way he is parented is COMPLETELY different. And the funniest part of it all is that my husband is the one who desired to do activities, but was told no due to money yet his little brother continues with expensive activities he doesn’t even really like just because he thinks he should. Another example is that The Hubs always had chores growing up, but it wasn’t until 2 years ago when his mom went back to work that his then 14 yr old brother had to start doing chores. And even at 16, he still complains that his mom is a tyrant!

        Kids, like adults, want justice. Blatant injustices when it comes to parenting are noticeable and hurtful to children. That was my point–fairness and equality in rules greatly matters.

    • I see both of your points… but I think there’s a difference between giving different kinds of support based on what each child needs, and having wildly different rules for each child.

      Here’s an example – my mother gave my brother and I each the same allowance, only I had to do chores to earn mine and he didn’t. I think this was mostly because my mother didn’t feel it was appropriate for boys to do housework, but it was a fairly bitter pill for me to swallow.

      At the same time, my brother spent every summer throughout high school attending various science camps and “whiz kid” programs – which I’m sure cost a great deal of money… I never went to any camps or anything, but I didn’t perceive this as an inequity because the idea of spending a summer at the Air Force Academy learning about the physics of flight sounded a heckuva lot more like torture than entertainment to me!

  • What a wonderful article. We live 1300 miles from our families and when my parents come they try to overcompensate for what the do for my siblings. It falls on deaf ears when I tell them we are in a different place so we don’t need financial “help.” Now if they want to help complete home improvement projects by being free labor I am all for it. After much prodding, they do finally ask what my daughter needs before just buying willy nilly. For that I am grateful, it has really cut down on the amount of items that were getting shipped.

  • I still have to persuade my parents that they don’t need to treat us all equally. I’m 25 and the youngest of three girls, but I happen to be the one who’s married and my husband has a very good income (we were students with no income when I said ‘Yes’ to him, so that’s worked out pretty well, huh?). My parents help my sisters financially from time to time and then practically beg to find a reason to “help” me too. But we don’t need it, so we won’t ask for it! It’s great to know they’re there – we might need them one day – but we don’t need to be given the same as my two sisters struggling on lowish incomes!

  • Yes I feel very obligated to keep things equal between my children, particularly in terms of time and gifts. Sometimes one child will have an interest that is more fun for ME, so I naturally want to participate more or it’s easier for me to be a part of it. So then I feel badly that I may be giving that child more of my time and resources. So I do try to keep it fairly even. Is it always truly equal? No, because babies require more attention than older children, and yet older children have activities and homework and need your time too. But I do try.

  • You’re preaching to the choir for me; however, can you please do a version of this blog post for my 5 and 9 year old daughters? Ha! They are the ones that need convincing. I’m smiling, but I’m really not joking. If you wrote one, I would print it out and read it to them!

  • This is a great post. I am child-free by choice, but I remember my mother counting the Christmas presents to make sure they were even. Kudos to your parents for helping you with your athletic dreams!

    But the other part of this post that I think really matters is giving children what they need. My parents always used gift giving as a way to try to “encourage” us to do things that they wanted us to do, but that we didn’t necessarily care about. My brother was a total brainiac geek with a weight problem, so they always gave him sports equipment in an attempt to get him to exercise. Needless to say, he was less than thrilled with these gifts. Me, on the other hand… I was the tomboy who couldn’t sit still for 30 seconds, and I really, REALLY wanted the bicycles and skateboards etc… but instead they bought me clothes and books. Sigh.

  • This is a really mature, refreshing way of looking at things. I am the oldest of five children, and I have to admit that I have gotten caught up in keeping score at times. My parents were still getting a feel for things when they were raising me, and I saw my younger siblings get more things or more privileges at a younger age than I did. I think what kids feel they need (even just emotionally) and what parents perceive can be VERY different things. But whether they’re right or wrong is kind of irrelevant, because I can’t go forward with my life if I’m so focused on keeping score. I feel at my worst when I get caught up in comparisons. I feel at my best when I stop and think about how much my husband and I have done for our own family, and what we might be able to do in the future.

    Right now I only have one son, and I’m able to do a lot of nice things for him. It has crossed my mind that things might change when/if we have more children someday. I do try to keep a modest budget for gifts and clothing so that we can hopefully provide the same kind of experience for future kids, at least while they’re young. So, even if we end up having a lot more money at our disposal in the future (which is likely, since we’re paying off our debt this year), I’ll probably stick to the same budgets and spend the extra on things we can all enjoy as a family.

  • Hey – my birthday falls a few days from Christmas…and I’m a twin!

    Nice food for thought. Thanks!

  • My mom is crazy with the gifts. Everyone gets the same number. The total amount spent always adds up to the same for each person. I don’t think I’ll be so OCD. What I do want is each of my children (ok, so there’s only 1 right now..) to know that they are loved equally. My brother and I have different relationships with my mom but she will alway say she loves us completely and equally. I’ve seen parents play favorites and what it can do to their children is just plain sad.

  • Ah. This is the exact point I am in the process of trying to drive home to my 5 year old. If I hear, “That’s not fair” one more time I might implode. I think teaching a heart of gratitude goes a long way in helping our kids fight that nasty habit of comparing. But, it is sure a long, difficult process that even most adults don’t have accomplished. As the younger sister of one older brother I have received more than my fair share of scorn and bitterness from him over our “unfair”, read unequal, treatment over the years. Tricky balancing act for sure.

  • I think it’s easy to say that it doesn’t have to be equal to be fair when you’re the one who your mother took out a second mortgage for.

    I tell my kids that things aren’t fair all the time. I refuse to get sucked into keeping track of who had more playdates or got to go to Starbucks with mom more. I don’t keep track of how many gifts my mother has given my niece and nephew as compared to my kids. But when it comes to huge financial decisions, or even things like Christmas gifts, I *do* make an attempt to make things equal. I actually think it *does* matter to a lot of kids, and I know plenty of adults who still feel slighted over these kind of issues. I actually don’t think it’s fair or equal AT ALL to give a great deal of help (especially if it’s financial) to one child because you perceive them as needing it more, unless we are talking about some kind of medical issue or other life and death situation. In the long run the hurt feelings and resentment of the sibling(s) who got the short end of the stick will linger and the damage will likely outweigh the benefit.

    I agree with you on most everything, but think you’re completely off base on this.

    • Interesting, Leeann. I appreciate you sharing your view.

      What I didn’t mention here is the plane tickets bought for siblings or the years and months people lived at home in their 20’s without paying rent. While my mother loaned me money to help me pursue a large goal I didn’t get assistance or gifts for free like some of my siblings.

      I guess that is the point: I don’t need to tally up who got more from my mom. I got what I needed when I needed it. So did my siblings. Sometimes that meant my mom spent more on them than she did on me.

      I know at the time I didn’t always see this as fair so if you have young children right now, or teenagers, I can appreciate that making it all equal saves you a lot of grief.

      But on the other side of things I’m happy that things weren’t always equal. I think it prepared me for adult life, that sometimes the office jerk gets the promotion, that once you’re an adult no one is looking out to make things equal for everyone.

  • My two oldest children are now battling the “fairness” of many things. They share a room, my oldest told the younger that his stuffed animal was a zombie. Little brother got scared, came running out of their room crying. I told him I’d lay by him. The oldest immediately screamed, “That’s not fair, I want to snuggle with you too.” I told them I’d squeeze between them for a bit. Lately, their “fair” squabbles seem to be about time spent with others and not so much about things. With things, they say, “Mom, set a timer and we’ll take turns.” With people, they make a big deal, and rightfully so. We are very dilligent now about time with grandparents, cousins, aunts/uncles. If they go separate, then we shedule a time for each of them, otherwise, they go together. That seems to keep them happy.
    I’m glad that they are understanding the value of special time with people over things.

  • Interesting post, enjoyed it. As the youngest of 6, and quite bit younger than the first 5, I grew up a little differently than the others. My mom talks about when I was 10 and we’d moved out of state. One of my older sisters (10 yrs older) came to visit during her college break and noticed I had more shoes than she had at that age. My mom talks about deciding not to ‘enforce’ the same limits as she had to out of necessity when she had 6 kids at home.

    It’s my mothers money, but it was also difficult to hear she paid for a nephew private school tuition (when things got tight for a sib) while my kids went to public school and we’re scrimping/saving for college expenses.

    On the flip side. My husbands family gets trickier. His 2 siblings got financial assistance even as adults and not for a lofty goal, but due to foolish decisions they’d made. His mother (the one who doled out the money) passed away 4 yrs ago and the 2 siblings are bickering over their fathers finances (and he’s still alive). While we do not wish to have the challenges his sibs face, it’s been difficult to learn of the extent of help they have received. They presumed we got the money they got (presuming she was keeping things “fair”).

    No family is going to agree with what is fair, basically things aren’t fair, but not much in life is,

  • I have a boy and a girl and they have VERY different interests! I have not yet had to deal too much with the fair part, but my in laws make sure they spend the same exact amount of money on all their grandchildren for each birthday and christmas. I understand where they are coming from, they don’t want to show favoritism. Where the unfairness comes in is that they spend way more time with the other grandkids because of their location. I know they feel bad about this and so they make sure they spend extra quality time with our kids when they visit. Sometimes less really is more; my kids really look forward to the visits because they don’t see their grandparents as often…

  • I agree with you on this. My parents have done what is best for all four of us and for each one of us that has been different. Why? Because siblings aren’t carbon copies.
    I think some people in this discussion are confusing the teaching of values and morals (which is usually the same for all members of a family) vs fair treatments in how to raise a child. Different children might learn the same values and morals in different ways, even in the same family unit. C’est tout.

  • This is an interesting post. I have a bit of a different view point than most. I was treated as the black sheep of my family. My parents had an unpleasant divorce and, long story short, I ended up with a very unpleasant family situation due to the circumstances of my conception, and the fact that I look like my mother’s twin. I was treated very differently from my siblings and excluded in many ways. It was very hurtful and has left me with practically no relationship with some of my family.

    As a reult, I find myself wanting to be EXTRA fair with my kids. I want them to know I love them both equally. This does not mean I’m going to spoil them, or give one a present on the other’s birthday (I think that is ridiculous). But I will treat them fairly. They will get equal opportunity and support to become the individuals they are.

    I’ll probably have to watch myself closely for signs of going too far!!!

  • I enjoyed this post but I loved the comments. To hear people still complaining about themselves or their partners being treated differently by their parents, even caring in their 20s, 30s and 40s, tells me that people still feel competitive and are counting. You hit a nerve which is awesome.
    The injustices of our youths linger for a long time apparently. It is one of those areas that can easily haunt you and take a up lot of energy if you don’t let it go and just enjoy life.
    If I never get married or have kids, I won’t be asking mom for a cheque for what it would have cost her if I had.

  • I have 3 daughters, and try to treat them equally.
    That said, my middle daughter always says – you have no idea what it is like to…. it’s not fair. Some of my family think that I do not treat my eldest well enough, and others say that I spoil my youngest.

    Regardless of what anyone else thinks, you have to go with what you (and your partner) believe, and love them ALL. Life is not fair, and as long as you are straight with your kids, hopefully they understand.

  • We have two girls and two boys. When it comes to gifts for birthdays or any event like graduations, or others, I never keep score of how much I spend. I do make sure though that everyone gets a gift that they have shown they would like. When it comes to giving my children money I give them all money, but not equal amounts. I wouldn’t give the same to my eight year old, that I give to my 15 y/o…. why? she isn’t going to be buying anything while she is outside like he can. And they all understand this. I do have felt resentful though about seeing how my in ex-in-laws give tons of gifts to their other grandkids, and because I divorced their son, my kids stand by the tree empty handed while other kids open gifts ( this is done every other year) and no, the other kids get gifts yearly. The point is, while I don’t care how expensive those gifts were, it would have seem more humane to treat all kids to something, even if it was a very small ticket item. As a result my children who are not lacking in the toy department, don’t miss the toys, but wonder what they did wrong, that they got no toys on those occasions. sight… this gets to me.

  • I agree with the ones above who have said that the post was great and the comments are great too! As an only child with two daughters (3 years apart), I have tried to be fair and equal while trying to recognize their individual needs. So for certain birthdays — 13 and 16 — the gifts of cash are the same for fairness (a dollar value for each year). For other birthdays and Christmas, I tend to spend the same amount per child, though on gifts that speak to each girl and we always choose experiences when possible over “stuff.” I do the same with my five nieces to allow for budgeting and for fairness. While I LOVE the comment “I can love them all equally, but I can’t love them the same, because they are all different.” I also know many adults who are incredibly resentful of perceived injustices both as children and as adults. Finding the balance between fair and equal and individual is an ongoing challenge that I hope I am managing well, but time will tell.

  • Love this post. As a mom of twins, I work very hard to treat them fairly but not neccessarily equally. It’s a work in progress. I love hearing from grown-up twins who’ve been there, done that

  • This is fascinating and I don’t think there is a right answer. When my kids were younger I made sure that they had the same number of gifts at Xmas, they didn’t know the value. Now that they are teenagers, I try to spend roughly the same but one might have one gift and the other 7 depending on what they want/need. I don’t hear any “it’s not fair” from them.
    But here’s an interesting true life story. My sister is 13 years older than me. She had her children young and I was a “geriatric mum” (lovely British term) with the result that my teenage children have cousins in their 30s and 40s. At the time my mum was making her will, I was being treated for cancer (I think that might have been significant in what she did) and my boys were still under 10. My mum left both my boys a large sum of money but nothing for my sister’s three children (who by this time were married with children of their own). I took this up with her because I felt this was going to cause trouble. She said it was fair. She said that my sisters kids had had years of birthday presents, Christmas presents, wedding presents, gifts for their first home, gifts for their kids, outings and even overseas holidays with their grandparents etc which my kids weren’t going to have and she wanted to try to make them equal. My sister and I shared the rest of her estate (although I let my sister have most of the contents of the house because there was nothing I wanted).
    My sister has never forgiven my mum or me for this and still, 6 years after mum’s death, feels it wasn’t fair.

  • Love this, Rachel! I often joke that my kids are going to inscribe “Fair does not mean equal” on my tombstone because I say it so often.

    Our biggest strategy for preventing scorekeeping is to not try to set patterns such as “First #1 gets to do this. Next time it’s #2’s turn. Then #3. Then #4. And then we begin again.”

    Although we do *kinda* follow a pattern for big things, such as weekend trips to my parent’s house, we’re not afraid to switch them up if it makes sense, and I refuse to follow those patterns for simple things like who gets to help Mommy in the kitchen. We take things on a case by case basis, and while we’re certainly aware of who needs some special one-on-one time and that kind of thing, we don’t base it on a set order or prescribed pattern.

  • This is interesting – I agree completely with your premise, however, you commented on how your younger sister was getting cash hand-outs to go to movies while living at home in her 20’s. The image at the top of this post says ‘Fair is everyone getting what they need to be SUCCESSFUL’ – now, I don’t know about you, but I think an adult is going to end up being less successful because of these hand-outs than someone who learns to pay for their own stuff – especially their own entertainment.
    My younger brother is still living at home in his mid-20’s while I moved out after high school and have never needed a thing from my parents since. I think it’s important that I not keep score – for my own sanity, and it is really only hurting him – but it’s hard not to feel a little resentful. My brother and I will never be close.
    Fair is not necessarily equal, but I think I will stick to being basically equal when it comes to monetary gifts and help for my kids over the years…

  • Oh. My. I am also a twin (identical) with our birthday in December so I laughed out loud when you described the “rip off” in presents of (a) being twins (sharing a present), and then (b) getting a combined B-day/Christmas present. So one instead of a potential four. (Not that I was counting or anything.) Looking back, I realize that this was just “stuff”, but at the same time, we (my sis and I) could not help comparing what we rec’d with our brother (not a twin, not a December birthday, older). So I sympathize with you!!

    Also – good point about parents being “fair” etc. It all worked out in the end. :-)

  • I have 2 step kids and then a child of my own. My step son is 14, has mood discarder (ODD) and is dyslexic. My daughter is an academic scholar reading at 12 grade level, at 12. My step daughter is playing ‘catch up’ at school as her mother switched her 12 times between different schools from K – 2nd grade although she’s 12, has been living with us for 5 years, and we are paying for secondary help to get her ‘caught up’ now that she’s mature enough to understand the importance of education. My husband is constantly playing the “fair” game. I want my child to be a part of mission trips at our church as she has shown interest in that but my husband feels it’s “not fair” for his kids to “not” get to go. I feel that they need to experience situations as they mature and can appreciate what it is that 1) we pay for and 2) the “learning” element of what we pay for. How can I get my husband to stop playing the ‘scoring’ game? Will he ever???

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