Why ‘life isn’t fair’ is one of the hardest lessons we teach our children

You don't have to be a 'lawnmower parent' to want to shield them from life's unfairness
By Katy AndersonPublished on 02/26/2019 at 9:00 AM EST

Last night in our home, a familiar scene played out. I reminded my 8-year-old that it was time to do his homework and he acted as though his whole world was crumbling around him, reciting his hallmark protest of “But it’s not fair!”

To be “fair,” he was right. His older brother, who is in fifth grade, never has homework. According to my sons, all the second graders are required to have nightly homework whereas the fifth graders are not. I can understand how confusing and frustrating this must be for my son and am at a point where I wish that schools and teachers would all just get on the same page when it comes to the homework issue, but it does illustrate an important life lesson: My children will have to learn at some point that “life isn’t fair.”

When you have multiple children, you quickly learn how much they latch onto the notion of fairness. In their minds, everything needs to be perfectly equal and they will let you know (passionately) when it is not. Kids have a unique talent for sniffing out any difference in treatment or favoritism they feel that you show their siblings. I feel like I spend an inordinate amount of time and mental energy trying to keep things fair and even with my three boys, and yet life is not a fair playing field.

Examples of life’s inequality are all around us; poverty, racism, money in politics, illness, the list goes on and on. So why do we feel so much pressure to keep things perfectly fair when it comes to our children? We want what’s best for them, but sometimes we have to pick our battles. I do my best to keep things equitable with my three sons, but I’m also not going to shield them from the fact that the world will not do the same.

Recently, a new parenting label was coined called the “lawnmower parent” after an anonymous educator wrote a post on that quickly went viral. In the article the teacher describes “lawnmower parents” who “go to whatever lengths necessary to prevent their child from having to face adversity, struggle, or failure.” In short, they plow over life’s difficulties for their children to keep them from having to experience them. I can understand this urge, after all, we all face struggles in life at some point and the inclination to guard innocent children from adversity is intense—but it’s impossible to keep kids in a bubble, and if we did, what would they learn?

It’s impossible to keep kids in a bubble, and if we did, what would they learn?

Whether you consider yourself a “helicopter parent,” a “free-range parent,” a “lawnmower parent” or none-of-the-above what it amounts to is that we all want the best for our kids, and just have different ways of going about it. I don’t know what parenting label I fit into, but I do know I want my kids to have a voice, and I hope that they will speak up when they see inequality or prejudice. I also want them to appreciate what they have, to be grateful, and have the perspective necessary for that to take place.

Some things in life will always remain unfair and it will be completely out of our control. It’s not fair, for example, that one of my best friends lost her amazing daughter to leukemia, and it never will be. I have chosen not to shield my children from this reality. Instead, we speak of this little girl often, and of her impact on the world. We’ve also attended fundraisers for other families facing childhood cancer to show our kids that they can make a difference and help others.

In the end what kids really “need” is love, and an unconditional assurance that even when life’s inequalities shake them up, they are valued and have a place in this world. Kids need a safe place to fall…we all do. Life will never be “fair” and that is a tough reality, one of the hardest that we teach our children, but there is power in letting go of what we can’t control.

Life is not fair, but it is beautiful, and that may be the most important message of all.

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