Friday, October 21, 2016

Different Strokes for Different...Kids

One of the hardest things for me to learn, as a parent, is that equality and equity are not the same thing. In other words, being fair to my children does not mean treating them both exactly the same way.

For example, it would not be fair to reward both of my children by giving each of them a big bowl of strawberries. To my daughter, who adores strawberries, that would be a wonderful treat, but to my son, who avoids fruit of all kinds, it would not be a treat at all - in fact, it would be more like a punishment. On the other hand, punishing them for the same infraction by sending them both to their room would indeed be a punishment for my daughter (the child who will leave her toys behind to join me in the boring office because she "needs company"), but it would be a reward for my son, who craves alone time and would be happy as a clam to be left alone with a book for hours.

Unfortunately, the difference between equality and equity is even more difficult for my children to understand than it is for me. How often do I hear the refrain, "But you let [sibling] do it!" All day long, it seems, I hear my children complaining, "But you let Katie have a cookie!" "But you let Ryan play with the Kindle!" And however many times I explain, "Katie finished her dinner and you didn't," or "You've already had an hour on the Kindle and he hasn't had any time on it today," it seems unfair to them, because it's not exactly equal.

Obviously, equality is much easier. Parenting would be so much easier if I could just make a chart of hard-line rules and the punishments for their infractions. Not coming when called, 2-hour loss of all electronics. Talking back or copping an attitude, loss of dessert for a day. Disobeying a parental order, no TV for 24 hours. I wouldn't have to think on the fly, and the kids would know exactly what they were in for.

But it's probably better that the kids DON'T know exactly what they're in for with each infraction. It's much easier to weigh the satisfaction of a sassy comeback against skipping a piece of cake than it is to wonder exactly what punishment will follow said sassiness. Will it be worth it? They don't know. Fear of the unknown is a powerful weapon for a parent.

Plus, it lets me choose how important every battle is in that particular moment. And it allows me to keep that all-important phrase "Go to your room!" in my back pocket for whenever I need it. Because as much as I love my kids, sometimes we ALL win when I send them out of my sight for a little while.

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