Fairness in Parenting – Fair Is Not Equal

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Categories Parenting, Parenting TwinsTags 2 Comments

“It’s not fair!” is the child’s rallying cry, often accompanied with a stomped foot or protruded lower lip for emphasis.

How often do your children say, "It's not fair?" Do they really mean, "It's not equal"? That's probably true. In our efforts to make things fair we don't make them equal.

My response? “No, it’s not equal. ‘Fair’ and ‘equal’ are not always the same thing.” Or, far more often, my daughters hear me say, “Fair is not equal.

I aim for fairness in my parenting. There’s plenty of unfairness in the world. My kids should be able to rely on me to be fair… and they do. As far as I can recall, I’ve always been able to respond to accusations of,  “That’s not fair!” with an explanation of how I determined the perceived inequity to be fairness.

For example, when M tells me she hasn’t had her share of snuggles, I will remind her that she received an hour of my undivided conversational attention while J read by my side. When J tells me that M gets away with more instances of rudeness, I point out that M finds it harder to control her impulses, so my expectations of J are higher. J also gets more benefit of the doubt in arguments between the sisters because of her track record of telling me difficult truths. When J asks why I always ask whether she’s remembered to write her name on her homework, I tell her it’s because she forgets more often than not. When I ask M to double check whether she’s answered every question on her homework before I even look at it, it’s because I know that’s a weakness.

I suspect it’s a lot easier to be fair to same-gender twins than to children of different ages. I can imagine that a younger child might perceive an earlier bedtime as unfair, not realizing that the older sibling had to slog through early bedtimes at the same age. However, demonstration of parental efforts toward fairness over time should earn our children’s trust.

The world is not fair, I tell my girls. It’s not fair that their parents are divorced while other kids have parents who will stay married forever. It’s not fair that they have three mommies to love them when others get only one. It’s not fair that learning comes so easily to both M and J, while their friends struggle with reading. It’s not fair that I can fit comfortably in an airplane seat while other people can reach the top shelves in my kitchen without needing a stool. A completely fair world would be rather boring.

I shared with my daughters my recollection of part of Kurt Vonnegut’s short story “Harrison Bergeron“. In Vonnegut’s dystopia of 2081, in an attempt to make everyone equal, strong people are made to wear weights and smart people have their thoughts interrupted by distracting sounds to bring everyone’s abilities down to the same level.

Fair isn’t equal. And life isn’t fair. But we parents can be.

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Growing Pains

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We were excited when the new size 6 pants I’d ordered for J arrived. She’s been growing like a weed and had grown out of her clothes. I asked her to try on the new pants, but sadly, she reported that they were far too loose in the waist. I washed them all and put them aside.

After several days with temperatures in the 70s, today was a relatively chilly Texas day. J came out of her room dressed in 5T sweatpants. They left a good portion of her shins bare. My foot came down.

“No ma’am,” I told her. “Those pants are too small for you. Please put on your new purple ones.”

She came out of her room again with an important update. “These are too big.”

I took a look, and they seemed to fit just fine. I noticed her pulling them up at the hips, bunching the fabric on both sides below the waistband.

“I think,” I informed her, “that you have become accustomed to your pants being too tight. It’s just like how you resist switching to new shoes when your feet grow. You’ll feel comfortable in a while.”

That did it. To cut a very long, very loud story short, she lost it. There was screaming and stomping, tears and threats, and a general insistence that her panties were going to fall off without super-tight pants holding them up. I don’t try to reason with the unreasonable, so I didn’t point out all the things wrong with her argument until M wanted to discuss them with me over sister’s screams. Yes, I agreed, her panties did stay on when she jumped on the trampoline in a dress. J even tried M’s panties on, only to break down into a fresh slurry of tears because they were too tight.

Proving myself to be the meanest mommy in history, I insisted that J go to school in her own panties and pants. Once she’d settled into the car and quieted a bit, I told her that I was 95% certain that she would get used to her new clothes by the time school was done. I also suggested that perhaps part of her resistance was that I wasn’t making her sister go up a size. She agreed that that was a big part of it. It wasn’t fair that M got to wear the old pants.

“The fact is,” I told her, “that your sister is just smaller than you right now. You’ve always been used to sharing clothes so it feels strange not to, but it’s no different than you having different shoes because of your different sized feet.”

J struggled with this idea, but had accepted it by the time we got to school.

When I picked her up after daycare, she said those sweetest words: “Mom, you were right.” She loved her new pants and had received 2 compliments on them. They were softer than the old ones, which she admitted had been too tight. She even agreed to model her too-small and just-right clothes for a before-and-after photo set.

A 7-year-old with a tendency to resist change isn't a fan of switching to a larger size of clothing

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

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I Have a Mature Discussion with My 7-Year-Olds About the Value of Challenges

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Categories Difference, Discipline, From the Mouths of Multiples, Household and Family Management, Parenting Twins, Talking to KidsTags , , , 3 Comments

For months, my 7-year-old twin daughters’ room looked like a department store after a tornado. There was so much stuff–toys, books, clothes, art supplies–strewn across the floor that I could rarely get the vacuum cleaner through the door, much less vacuum. I attempted to pick up, only to have two chipper children distribute junk across the carpet in my wake. I nagged and cajoled to no effect.

Part of the problem is that I’m a lousy housekeeper myself. How could I ask my children to clean their room when there were papers strewn across the dining table and my kitchen was forever in the midst of reorganization? My requests that they clean were half-hearted, at best.

Over the course of two weeks, I did a major decluttering, tidying and deep clean of every corner of the house, except the girls’ room. I hired a new lawn care service. I still need to apply fresh contact paper to my kitchen shelves, but everything else feels livable. I’ve even shampooed my carpet. (Why, oh why, did I wait so long to buy a steam cleaner? I used to rent them from our local grocery store, but found that my Hoover brand one paid for itself in no time.)

I now had the moral high ground to demand that my daughters clean their room. There would be no screen time (TV, computer, tablets), I told them on Wednesday, until their room was clean enough that I could vacuum and steam clean the entirety of the carpet. We average 2 hours or less of screen time a week, but my kids consider it a premium treat.

I didn’t bring the cleaning thing up again. I figured that the next time they asked to watch a movie or look something up on their Samsung Galaxies, I’d remind them that they needed to clean their room first.

Imagine my surprise when I awoke this morning to find J diligently cleaning. I tried to stop feeling guilty about bribing my children to do their duty. After all, it was working, although I’d prefer that my kids do what I ask just because I ask.

It wasn’t long, of course, before there was conflict between the children. J complained that she’d asked M to help out with the cleaning, but that M had told her that she’d rather read. I need to find an approach that was fair to J but still stuck to the expectations I had already communicated. I told J that she could have screen time back as long as I could vacuum the entirety of her room with the exception of the area directly below her sister’s desk. Similarly, M would only get screen time once the entirety of the floor, except for the expanse under J’s desk, was available to the vacuum cleaner.

I asked J if she would like to communicate the adjusted expectations to her sister. She said she would, so I worked in the kitchen. Before too long, J came in to get me. “M needs you.”

I walked into the girls’ room, and M was up in her lofted bed, sobbing. “When I look under my desk, I feel too overwhelmed. I can’t do this, Mommy. I can’t do this.”

I told her to pick up and deal with the first 10 things she could reach. She cried and asked to be held. She was obviously completely defeated by the idea of cleaning up. We talked about how good she was at cleaning up at school. She said there wasn’t as much stuff. I said there wasn’t as much stuff because she took care of it daily. She cried some more, finally agreeing to climb down from her bed and picking up a sheet of paper.

J couldn’t understand it. “This is easy!” she told her sister, picking up more beads off the floor. “Look! Easy!” This just made M cry harder. I left her to pick up 9 more things and invited J to the dining room for a conversation.

Me: M’s having a hard time with this whole cleaning thing. Let’s be supportive.
J: It’s so easy, though. Why is it such a big deal?
Me: It’s a challenge for her. She feels overwhelmed.
J: It’s a challenge for me too! I like challenges!
Me: You have an easier time with challenges than M. She gets worried easily, so I need to help her contain her worries.
J: Challenges are good. Challenges are how I grow up. If I had no challenges in my life, I would still be a little baby.
Me: I agree. Facing challenges helps us learn. This is one way that you and your sister are different. Challenges frighten her, so it’s harder for her to learn from them. Let’s not make her feel worse than she already does.

For those of you with younger kids, you should know that J’s self-awareness is atypical for 7-year-olds. You can certainly have discussions of this sort with the average 7-year-old, but most of them will not look at cleaning their rooms as learning experience without some serious guidance.

I returned to M’s room, where she was back in her bed, crying.

M: I picked up 10 things, but I just can’t handle it. There’s no way I can finish.
Me: We’re similar in that we can both think too much. When I had to clean the dining room, I overwhelmed myself by trying too hard to plan. When I just started, without worrying about the end, it got all cleaned up. Does that sound familiar?
M: But I can’t just stop thinking.
Me: I know. Just think and do. Don’t just think. Go pick up 10 more things.
M: I can’t. I just can’t.
Me: You can.
M: This is a too big challenge.

Whoa. How’d she know what J and I had been talking about?

M: I’m not J. She’s better at challenges because she’s more used to challenges. She has more challenges than me.
Me: Like what?
M: This is too hard.
Me: What challenges does J face that you don’t?
M: Um. Uh. I don’t know. None.
Me: I know it feels overwhelming, but facing challenges now will make it easier to face challenges that come later on. Tell you what. Read a book chapter to calm yourself down. Then put away 10 things. Then read again. You can do this.
M: Okay.

Thirty minutes later, she asked for my help again, but she’d made discernible progress. I helped her finish up. I praised her plenty, but refused to agree that her space was cleaner than J’s. I reminded her that J had cleaned the entire common area without help and deserved her thanks.

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

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"I Had No Idea She Had a Sister"

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Categories Activities, Celebrations, Classroom Placement, From the Mouths of Multiples, Mommy Issues, Other people, Relationships, School, School-AgeTags , , , , , , , , , , , 3 Comments

J is standing in front of wall of art, showing off her paint and collage chameleon.Our local performing arts center recently hosted an exhibition of elementary art from around the school district. One of my twin 6-year-old’s works was selected for display.

I confess that I’d completely forgotten about the open house. When I picked the girls up from after-school care Wednesday, I planned to take them shopping for shoes. They reminded me of our priorities, in a hurry. We made it to the exhibit by the skin of our teeth, a minute before the teachers began to dismantle the displays. While the artwork has been up for several weeks, the open house/teacher meet-and-greet was 2 hours only.

M had been the one to remind me of her sister’s exhibition. “We can’t go shoe shopping,” she told me, “because sisters are much more importanter than selves. We have to see J’s chameleon.”

J spotted her piece within seconds of our arrival. While we were oohing and aahing, her art teacher arrived. Once the handshakes and hugs were over with, the art teacher said to J, “I didn’t know you had a sister!”

“They’re actually in the same grade,” I told her. “Twins.” I immediately felt an urge to slap my forehead. Why did I need to volunteer that? What difference does it make? This was J’s moment to shine.

On cue, M’s art teacher arrived, saw M, hugged her and introduced herself to me. “I just love having M in my class,” she gushed. “She’s such a hard worker, and so articulate!”

J’s teacher looked M’s, and said, “Did you know she had a sister? I had no idea J had a sister!”

“No, I didn’t know. M’s a wonderful student!”

This moment was why I chose to have my girls in separate classrooms. They’re independent enough that I didn’t think it would hurt to be apart, and I wanted them to learn that they excel and are valuable as individuals as well being on display to the world as a pair.

M was a little perturbed on the drive home. “I don’t think I’m a very good artist,” she said. “I wasn’t picked.”

I quickly corrected her. “No, sweetie, that’s not it at all. I think the teachers had to limit themselves to one piece per grade, and yours just wasn’t the one your teacher picked for first grade. You’re an excellent artist.”

M perked right up. “J got picked. I just love her chameleon.”

J was miffed. “You’re just being jealous.”

I started to say, “No,” but M interrupted me. “I’m not jealous! I’m proud of my special Sissy.”

And I’m proud of my special girls.

Sadia’s 6-year-old daughters attend a dual language first grade program in a public school near Austin, TX. She feels very fortunate to be in a school district that can still afford to include music, art and physical education, as well as the Spanish and English immersion experiences. Sadia is a single mom and works in higher education information technology.

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Discipline and Love

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Categories Behavior, Difference, Discipline, Parenting Twins, School-Age, WorkingTags , , , , , , 6 Comments

“Why are you acting like you love J and not me?” my 5-year-old M asked me this morning, her voice full of tears.

That was quite the knife through the heart. Within minutes of learning that there were two little people growing in my womb, I had promised myself two things: I would never play favourites, and I would treat our children as individuals.

I wasn’t playing favourites today, of course. M would be allowed to snuggle up against me with her blankie too, once she’d served her well-earned 5 minutes in time out.

Here’s what led up to this moment:

We had a small quantity of chocolate milk in the fridge, a spring break treat. I had split it evenly between two cups, and offered them to the girls to tide them over while I prepared breakfast. J took a cup from me and downed the milk in one swallow, while M tensed every muscle in her body before wailing, “But I wanted that cup!”

I offered her the other cup. I offered to pour her milk into the cup J had just emptied. She didn’t want milk at all, she informed me, because J had the cup she wanted. This sort of interaction was par for the course at age 3, but not now. Instead of having the milk go to waste, I offered it to J. That was when M started pummeling me with her fists. Instant orders to time out prompted her accusation of my not seeming to love her.

M has been having some major self control issues all week. It’s been a stressful time for the whole family. J is more in touch with her emotions than the majority of adults I know, including me, so she’s been weathering this period unbelievably well. M, on the other hand, is either unaware of what’s really bothering her or unwilling to talk about it. I sat her down with crayons and paper yesterday, and drawing seemed to help some, but she has a way to go.

While she has a legitimate reason to be generally upset, this doesn’t excuse rudeness or hitting. She’s a month shy of turning 6, and we’ve been working with both girls on a variety of tools to help them maintain their composure and handle their emotions since they were 2. Deep breathing, playing with water in the sink, and taking some alone time with a book or toy are standard ways that both J and M deal with overflowing anger to make their way to a productive solution.

She finally calmed down. I explained to M that it was because I loved her that I took the time to help her behave like a grownup. If I didn’t love her, I wouldn’t care how she behaved. Surprisingly enough, she accepted that response.

A little later, M asked to play a game on my iPad. I told her that I wanted to let her play, but the fact that she wasn’t controlling her body well made me worry that she would break the thing. That cued another tantrum and time out. Once she returned, I told her that if she went 3 hours without a tantrum, I would have enough confidence in her self-control to let her play a game. Classic bribery, I know, but we work with what we have.

She made it 45 minutes until the next tantrum hit. She begged me to lower the bar. A tantrum-free hour should be enough, she thought. I do not negotiate with tantrum-throwers, so I held my ground.

It was afternoon before she asked if it had been 3 hours; I’d been head down in work and hadn’t thought about her request for the iPad game. I realized that she’d been playing nicely with J for 5 hours, blowing bubbles in the yard and inhabiting up an elaborate make-believe world that involved pirates and restaurant owners.

It wasn’t until I sat down to write this post that I noticed how M had worded her pain to me. (I jotted the sentence down immediately for use in this post.) She had asked me why I was acting like I loved J more. She didn’t actually accuse me of not loving them equally. Even in her deepest frustration with me, she was confident in the content and equal partition of my love, even if she didn’t like how I expressed it.

I think M’s going to be all right. We’ll get through this. I just need to take my deep breaths, play in the water, and take some alone time every now and then.

What’s your approach to fairness in parenting? How do you balance the needs of multiple children?

Sadia telecommutes from El Paso, TX to her job in Austin and is thankful that her 5-year-old identical twins can entertain one another 8 hours a day.

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