Fairness, Equality, and the Balance of Parenting Children of Different Age Groups

We’ve been having a lot of different conversations lately about what is fair, what is equal and when equal is not fair. About levels of need, ability, maturity and responsibility. And about how a life where everyone participates is a good life. And a life where a few people participate is still better than a life where everyone points at the other kids and says “YOU MUST GO FIRST.”

For example…

I agree to wash all the dishes. But. I have a few requirements.

1- The dishes must be rinsed (swished not pre-washed).
2- The dishes must be sorted by type into the three bins we have. Plates on the bottom. Bowls in the middle. Utensils in the caddy. Glasses on top. Pots and pans in the sink.
3- Everyone needs to help me dry them and put them away.

I asked my kids “Is this equal?” Are we all doing an equal part of the work? Is Wren doing the same amount of work as I am? Is this fair? Is this fair to you, Isaac (11)? Alexander (8), Keenie (6)? What about me? Is it fair to me?

No. It’s not fair to me. It’s an agreement, though. I agree. I am willing. I am accepting more responsibility because I work quickly, know how to conserve water (we have a well and a septic system), and it is a job that I enjoy doing.

But. My agreement to wash all of the dishes has conditions. If I have to wash dishes with crusted on mashed potato, if I have to wash disorganized dishes, or if I have to pause to let a rack of dishes dry at the end… It takes up too much of my life. I never agreed to do that. I always rinse my dishes out because I am the one who washes them. I always dry and put away the dishes I wash because I need the space to put more dishes. I always organize the dishes into the different bins because I know it is easiest to wash the plates first. Then the glasses. Then the bowls. Then the other larger things that I can balance over the smaller things. I don’t wash a small load of dishes. I wash a LOT of dishes. And when I am done the drying area is a spectacular mountain that doesn’t shift or slide or hold water that needs to drain in order for a dish to dry.

If I say “Okay, everyone needs to help now!” and the only one who helps is Wren (2)… Is that fair? Do I have all of the help that I need to accomplish this task that the whole family appreciates the benefits of? What if only Isaac helps? Is it fair to Isaac? Is it fair to me? Is it fair to Alexander and Keenie?

If one person helps, we are both shouldering responsibility and can take pride in our work. We get to do more as a family than if I am the only one doing the work.

Is it more important to us that no one who works gets to participate in fun stuff? (punitive) or is it more important to us that we get to participate in fun stuff after we take care of the responsibilities of the house?

Are Alexander and Keenie more likely to join me and clean or are they more likely to join Isaac and play if Isaac is playing? What about if Isaac and Alexander both choose to help me? Is Keenie more likely to start helping?

Are we responsible for our siblings, or are we responsible for ourselves?

Will I have more time and energy to say “yes” to changes and requests if I am washing a mountain of dishes, or if I have a mountain of helpers?

I do not feel it is fair to ask my children to participate equally in life. They are still learning. I have grace to give there. Is it fair for them to not participate at all, though?

What agreements can we make with each other to make this all work? How can we focus more on what is fair participation and less on what we “want” to do? Because honestly I DO prefer to read a book and run around outside. I like to climb the mulberry tree and shake its branches far more than I like to sweep the floor.

I never agreed to be She Who Takes Care of All The Things. Everyone wants things that require our life together to be functional. So we’re troubleshooting that now. And will likely troubleshoot it again in the future. There doesn’t have to be a single agreement that we follow blindly to the end of time. Things change as the seasons do.

What I am NOT okay with is what my kids have been taught. That while mommy cleans they are entertained. No. Nope. No way. Not even a little bit. That idea is cancelled.

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