Sunday, April 17, 2011

It's not fair!

Yesterday after soccer I took the kids to warm up over hot chocolate. Little Guy was still snarling about losing 5-1; most of his sentences contained the phrase It's not fair!

I gotta say, if I could eliminate three phrases from the English language, It's not fair would be one of them. (Can you guess the other two?)

After a while of ignoring my son I held up my hand to stop the grumbling, and laid out a few basic categories for him to ponder. The way I see it, there are three types of unfair:
  1. Unfair things that need action. It's not fair that we get to eat every day, and others don't. Nor is it fair that we have decent schools, yet kids in poor neighborhoods get a lousy education. It's definitely unfair when someone hurts others and it goes uncorrected or unpunished. We need to do something about all these things.
  2. Unfair things that require a deep breath and a shrug. No, it's not fair the ref didn't see that hand ball, or that you didn't get a second popsicle and your sister did. Awful as that may be, your life won't be ruined because of these injustices (unless you choose to hang on to your anger). Besides, maybe in the next game the ref will miss your hand ball. And even if it doesn't all even out in the long run, if I'm still three popsicles behind when I'm 75, I still have a lot to be thankful for.
  3. Unfair things that aren't actually unfair. It's frustrating that your team's best player didn't show up. It's disappointing that your friend's mom forgot about today's play date today. It's aggravating that you left your water bottle on the counter and now you're thirsty. But there's no injustice in any of these things, and there are better words than unfair to describe them.
In general, Little Guy responds well to frameworks like this.I think most people do. It's helpful to have a decision tree that puts our feelings in perspective. The next time he starts in on It's not fair! I can ask:

  • Is it actually unfair, or are you feeling disappointed?
  • Is this something we should let pass, or something that requires action?
  • What kind of action shall we take?
  • Who should take the action? 
Wish me well...


  1. I appreciate your insights, and your sharing the realities of dealing with complaining kids. Mine complain, too, on occasion. Just as I was getting all bent out of shape with one kid's complaints in particular, he shrugged and said, "Mom, it's no big deal. I just like to complain sometimes."

    So he was letting off a little steam, and I was able to just let it go. Sometimes that's all we need to do, I guess. ~ D in NY

  2. Oh, I want to ban that phrase too! I will have to adopt your method. My current refrain is "life's not fair, get used to it." Horrible, I know. But it's the best I could come up with.

    I am enjoying your parenting articles. I like how you don't let your kids' problems become your problems. I only half succeed in this area.

  3. In south Florida, you run into southereners. One Old Georgia boy I know says: "Fair? Fair is where you take your pig on Saturday and hope to win a blue ribbon.".
    Probably, not an idea your NYC kids can relate to! But it makes me smile. And sadly, my daughter is subjected to my off-kilter sense of humor.