The Family Definition of Fair

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In our home, there is the word fair, and then there is the family definition of the word fair. Confused? Don’t be, let me show you.

My guess is that if you have more than one kid, you hate the word “fair” as much as I do. If I had even a penny for how many times one of my kids talked about something not being fair, well, I think we all know where I would be—living at Disney World!

Anyway, I have tried to explain that life is not fair (how many times did I hear my own mom tell me this?!) and although it is true, it just didn’t resonate with them. The adult world is most certainly not fair – the job market is often not fair, movement within the workplace is often not fair, even things within even the most sacred institutions like the church are not always fair, but none of these things were real to my kids.

Within a family, there are very few times that a mom can make things fair. Some parents strive to make things fair when it comes to birthdays and holidays, but even this is something that is not that common over here since we have such a wide range of ages of children. The four month old just doesn’t need the same number of presents as the teen, nor do they need the same dollar amount in value as the teen. Not to mention the fact that child #7 has the benefit of all the toys, gadgets, and other things that his older siblings have received for Christmas and birthdays in prior years that have now been passed on to him.

So, that being said, I needed a workable definition of the word “fair” that did resonate with my kids, something they could relate to, understand, and accept.


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What I came up with was a compilation of things I have read elsewhere combined with my own thoughts to make it work in our situation at this time. Maybe as time goes on we will need to modify this a bit, but for now it really works. This is our definition:

Fair does not mean equal. Fair means doing the right thing, for the right person, at the right time.

From there we went on to discuss this a bit. I gave examples such as…. My oldest is going on a shopping trip with a group from her church. I decide to give her $10 to spend on whatever she wants, in addition to what she is bringing of her own money (teen girls make great money babysitting these days!).

Now, my other kids would be quick to say, “That’s not fair!  You never give me any money to go shopping!” Obviously I would point out that if they were going shopping, I would give them what I felt appropriate to give them at the time.

My oldest daughter does a lot to help out around the house, with her siblings, with grading school papers for other kids and so on. For that reason, I decided to give her a little extra money for the shopping trip, even though she didn’t even ask for it. In this way, I illustrated the concept of the definition of fair as we have written it. Everyone understood how this shopping illustration fit within the context of our definition of fair. And, they all agreed that at times, they receive perks for something or another.

With this definition I am basically able to illustrate how the age old notion of “what goes around comes around,” but that what goes around rarely coincides with what is going around with someone else in the family at any particular time.

Trying to make things fair between all my kids is not only exhausting, it’s also actually futile since life within a family is never the same among everyone. What one kid “gets” at one time will become something that another kid “gets” at a different time. My kids have just learned that things are different for everyone, and articulating this family definition of fair has helped greatly. Feel free to use it in your family!

How do you, or don’t you, make things fair in your home?

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  1. That definition is genius!!! Thank you!!! I will better know how to explain to my kids what I feel is hard to explain most if the time! Thank you!

  2. Jennifer, you have to have 8 kids to hear, “that’s not fair.” I only have 3 kids and they constantly tell me “that’s not fair”. Children have a strong sense of justice that favors themselves. But they would not want to be treated the same either. An 11 year old should be able do to different things than a 6 year old. I like your definition. I will be working on solidifying these concepts in our home too.

    1. I think even with one kid we would still hear about it not being fair, wouldn’t we?! I agree. My kids wouldn’t want to be treated the same, once they really thought about it 🙂

  3. I love this! “That’s not fair” might be my daughter’s new favorite saying. Thanks for writing this post.

    1. I think it’s one of those things ALL parents hear! I’m glad you find it useful. It really has been a life saver over here!

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