"It's Not Fair!"

Either my girls are going through a developmental phase right now, or they've picked this phrase up somewhere... but "It's not fair" has been all the rage in our household of late.

Caroline says "It's not fair" when I thank Margaret for finishing her morning routine so quickly.

Margaret says "It's not fair" when a simple coin toss means James gets the toy first.




"It's not fair" really pushes my buttons. Maybe because it's used in situations that have nothing to do with justice: my cooing over Caroline's blond hair as I brush it elicits an "It's not fair" from the four-year-old brunette. Hmm... I do not think it means what you think it means.

The thing is, I coo over Margaret's freckles, or the exuberant way she makes up songs. I like to think that such affirmations even out, and there's something insincere about inventing something to affirm the other person for on the spot just so she'll think it's fair.

And I don't like "Who said life was fair?" ...as true as it is. Are we not supposed to be teaching our kids to "seek justice, and love kindness and walk humbly" (Micah 6:8)? The first part of that is about discerning what's fair.

Still... grr, it's annoying. I finally snapped last week and told them I didn't want to hear "It's not fair" anymore. I said, "Here's what you can say: 'I'm sad that...' or 'It makes me mad when...' But I'm sick of 'It's not fair.' There's another reason I don't want you to say it but I'll tell you later."

The next day, when I wasn't so irritated, I explained myself, but I busted out that classic parental trope: the starving kids. God help me. I said:

There are children in this world who will die of diseases that you never have to worry about.

There are girls who do not have the right to go to school.

There are people who do not have enough to eat or a place to live.

And those things are not fair.

Do you get how those things are different than the gumball machine not giving you the color you wanted?

Well, it "worked." They do not say "It's not fair" anymore. They say "I'm sad" or "I'm mad" or "I feel left out." To use the mental health term, they make "I" statements. All to the good. But I'm not sure I did the right thing. I think I justified myself by reasoning that they are not equipped to use justice language yet. (Also it's just darn annoying.) But maybe part of childhood is to try to work out what's fair and what's not. And maybe that happens precisely through language. What if Caroline's teacher calls on boys more than girls? Maybe it doesn't rise to the level of the above stuff, but it's still deeply unfair and should be named as such.

I'm curious what other parents (and non/parents) think about this.