Embracing Unfairness: The Benefits of Treating Your Kids with Inequity

Written on October 3, 2013 at 11:00 am , by

Written by JM Randolph

JM's stepkids

When I became a custodial stepmom to five kids, I had zero prior child-rearing experience. I remembered my parents keeping things fair between my sister and me when we were young. My dad never came home with a toy for just my sister and not me. My mom didn’t let only one of us pick our favorite cereal. It followed that I would strive to be fair in all my dealings with my new family.

At the store, I wouldn’t get just one kid a candy bar, I’d get one for each, even if they weren’t all with me. If one wanted a certain kind of potato chip, they all got to choose their own. Likewise ice cream or any other treat.

It slowly dawned on me that this was not great for our finances. Whatever the tag read on the grocery store shelf, I had to multiply it by five. Not to mention there was now an appalling proliferation of junk food in the house. No matter who took ownership of which goodie, no one respected those boundaries. The early riser or the sneaky snacker got the treats, and the kid who thought everyone would share got tears.

Keeping fair led only to keeping score. I remembered that fairness between my sister and me was marked not by a sense of peace and all being right with the world, but with a tally. We kept score; that’s why our parents tried to keep everything equal. Nothing against them, but it’s way easier to balance the scales between two kids than among five. So I changed my approach.

If one kid asked for something special and I felt like getting it, I got it. I stopped buying four more for their siblings.

I didn’t tell them they had to keep their treat a secret, but I didn’t allow them to be a jerk about it to the kids who didn’t receive one. When one of the left-out kids complained, “That’s not fair!” I’d reply with the parental classic, “Life’s not fair.” Then I’d point out the last cool widget they had all to themselves.

Treating my kids with inequity gave me a lot of freedom. If I came across a gift that would suit one child perfectly, I didn’t have to find four more different-but-equally-amazing surprises for the rest.

Soon enough, the kids themselves were on board with being treated unfairly. They finally started to see everyone would eventually get a turn. I took the two oldest girls to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and out for sushi afterward. None of the other kids would have viewed an outing like that as anything except a punishment. I surprised the youngest girl with tickets to her first concert: our shared favorite band, KISS. None of her sisters would be caught dead at that show. The middle girl has asked for a trip to the San Diego Zoo after high school graduation. I denied her original request to take her to a Justin Bieber concert.

Hey, life’s not fair.


JM Randolph is a writer, stagehand and custodial stepmom of five. She lives in New Jersey with her family and blogs at accidentalstepmom.com.

3 Responses to “Embracing Unfairness: The Benefits of Treating Your Kids with Inequity”

  1. [...] Family Circle’s Momster blog, I’m talking about the benefits of treating your kids with …. That’s inequity, not iniquity. I’m not completely evil. (For the record: honoring a [...]

  2. I have four siblings, and I remember more or less the same thing happening when we were kids. I remember one of my brothers getting a b.b gun, and the rest of us could have cared less that we did not get anything. Another brother got a toy horse to ride on, and it was no big deal. We were not the type of siblings who cried, “well so and so is getting a toy how come I can’t.” I think it is because we always knew our parents were fair and loved us equally.

  3. I have a son who is 17 and a soon-to-be 16 year old daughter. I got divorced when my son was three and my daughter was around 15 months old. I had a job that only paid $5.25/hr. so it was a struggle. I tried keeping things equal between them,going so far as making sure they had the same number of gifts for Christmas. I even tried to spend the same amount of money on them. Every year my son complained that my daughter got more gifts than him. I would prove it was the same and explain that he unwrapped his gifts quickly while my daughter would take hours to unwrap hers. After a couple years of this driving me crazy while they complained that their sibling got something they did not, I knew something had to change. My son still complains that I buy more for my daughter than him. I tell him if he really wants pretty things for his hair, nail polish, pads, tampons, etcetera that I will happily buy those items for him. I decided that what I give them should be my time and undivided attention. I started “date day with Mom” where I would take on out and we would spend the day doing what they wanted, within reason and my budget. They love having me all to themselves and I enjoy the time with them without having to stop the seemingly endless bickering between them. I think that by treating them with equal inequity, they learn some important life lessons. After all, they aren’t likely to get a raise or promotion just because someone else at work did. I tell my kids all the time that life is not fair and the sooner they wrap their minds around it and learn how to deal with it, the better off they will be.Keep up the good work!