How to Help Your Kids Realize Life’s Not Fair

My husband and I had an interesting conversation today with our five year old about the fairness of life.

It was surprisingly philosophical, and thankfully, ended up being very insightful. You see, today was Hannah’s third birthday party. Hannah is our middle child, and her older brother, the aforementioned five year old, was wondering whether or not he would be receiving any birthday presents today as well.

“No, son. Today is Hannah’s birthday party.  Only she will be getting birthday presents today.”

“Ugh!,” he exclaimed disgustedly. “That’s not fair!”

There are certain things that jump all over me, and this phrase is one of them. Granted, he is five years old and developmentally, experts will tell you, he still believes he is the center of the universe.

We quickly redirected our little man. We told him things way over his head, like “Life’s not fair. You don’t always get what you want”, and “When you get out into the real world, you’ll see what ‘unfair’ is really like.”

Then we tried to simplify it into a way he could understand by simply telling him that “this is Hannah’s special day, and on your special day, you’ll get gifts and she won’t.”

Thankfully, he was fairly satisfied with that response, but it got my wheels turning.

The best way to teach my children about the fairness of life is to treat them realistically and stop ruining their life by giving them the world’s version of the “perfect childhood”.

That’s right.

We are ruining our children’s lives by giving them everything.

After some careful thought, I’ve come up with the following ways our generation is ruining the next generation, leaving them ill-prepared and in culture shock when they leave home for “the real world”.

1. Teaching them that everyone is a winner.

This happens to be my husband’s pet peeve.  Scores should be kept at ball games so that children can learn how to deal with loss.  Field day events should have 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners so that children can learn that hard work pays off with rewards, and losing is not the end of the world. Oh, and by the way, learning to be a gracious loser AND a gracious winner is helpful, very helpful, in adulthood.  A large part of a healthy self-esteem comes from recognizing your own value despite failures. Don’t make them wait until they are adults to learn how to win and lose.

2. Teaching them that other adults have no authority over them.

When my child gets in trouble at school, I have asked his teacher to give him whatever punishment she deems necessary.  She is a college-educated, capable adult who witnessed whatever infraction my child committed, and I trust her to make that decision.  I will not undermine her authority by calling the school for a meeting and insisting that the punishment was unfair or that little Johnny in his class did the very same thing last week without punishment.  I’m not doing my child any favors by helping him get out of every situation he creates for himself.  Those children grow up to be adults who disrespect authority because mommy and daddy always got them off the hook. *Disclaimer*: If my child is truly a victim, the situation is different, and it is my job to address it. I’m talking about life lessons, not issues involving my child’s health and safety.

3. Allowing them to change our minds.

I am guilty of this waaaay too often.  I tell them “No, you cannot have a candy bar before supper.” Instantly, they begin testing my limits by throwing a temper tantrum, or crying, or begging and pleading incessantly until my nerves cannot take it another second longer….so I give them the candy bar.  It’s easier. It’s more peaceful. And it’s incredibly harmful.  It may not be physically damaging (although a  candy bar isn’t the healthiest route to go), but psychologically, we are teaching our children that they can get what they want by being persistently ill-behaved. When they are adults, this behavior will get them fired from a job.  It will harm their relationships.  We are teaching them to be master manipulators rather than respecting authority. It may be more difficult, but eventually, they will learn that when momma and daddy say no, they mean no.  Manipulative toddlers become manipulative teenagers who become manipulative adults, and they get more and more skillful with practice.

4. We try to be their friend instead of their parent.

It’s wonderful to think that our children can’t get enough of spending time with us because they have so much fun with us. It would be great if we were the first ones they came running to with secrets and plans of mischief… but that’s not our role.  Children and teenagers need us to be parents because it creates stability and defined boundaries in their lives.  I’m not saying we can’t be friendly and do fun things with our children, but when push comes to shove and things get uncomfortable, we have to be the parent, not the friend.  It is very confusing for children when they need a mentor but can only find a friend. Help them recognize what they need, especially when they can’t see it for themselves. I’ve heard my mother-in-law say “Be their parents when they’re young and you’ll  be their friend when they’re adults.”

5. We are constantly looking at our phones/computers/devices.

We, as parents, have become obsessed with documenting our lives on social media. We think we are being good parents by posting about our children every five minutes with innumerable photos and selfies with them, but are we? Let’s be real, how much time are we spending afterward, after we post the pics and create the albums,  seeing how many likes or shares we have? How much time do we spend scanning our friends’ pages and looking at their pictures, comparing our lives to theirs? How much time do we waste pinning recipe ideas and housekeeping hacks? We need to get out of virtual reality and into the reality of parenting, without needing everyone else in the world to see how awesome we are doing.  Our children see our attention on our devices so often they don’t think twice about the much needed and precious attention we aren’t giving them. They are growing up in a world where being popular means being the most liked or viewed on social media, and that’s not real world, it’s just sad.

6. We give them everything they ask for and more.

We had our children make out a Christmas list this year (i.e. they told us what they wanted and we wrote it down for them). My husband and I purposefully did not get them everything they asked for, hoping to help them realize that sometimes, that’s just the way it goes.  Don’t get me wrong, they had a fantastic pile of gifts, still far too many, really.  They were not by any means deprived. But we did leave off a couple things, and we helped them notice. “Aw, man, no baseball glove or bat. Oh, well. Maybe we can save up for that and buy it later.” Because guess what? I live an extremely blessed life, but I still don’t get everything I want all the time.  There are days I really don’t want to go to work, but I have to, so I do.  There are times I’d really love to take a vacation, but we really don’t need to spend that money, so we don’t.  If our children learn to hear “no” or “not right now” as children, it won’t be so devastating as an adult.

7. We don’t spend time with them in God’s Word.

Call me old-fashioned. Call me conservative. Call me what you will, but one thing we as a generation are failing miserably at doing is teaching our children more about God’s word.  Do our children see us reading our Bibles? Do we spend time reading it to them? Have we taken the time to learn the twelve apostles? The books of the Old Testament? This Sunday’s memory verse? We spend a lot of time doing schoolwork every week, do we spend any time learning more about what God expects of us as parents and from them as children? If not, that’s not being fair.  Our children deserve a fair chance at reaching Heaven just as much as we do, and it’s our jobs as parents to give them that fighting chance.


All in all, it’s a matter of common sense.  Our children, just like us, are a product of their raising.  Be it good or bad, our childhoods shape and mold our adult selves.

We choose to accept that life is unfair and excel despite that fact, or we lament that life is unfair and allow it to impede our personal successes. What view are we guiding our children to take?


“Who says life is fair, where is that written?”

-William Golden, The Princess Bride




1 Comment

  1. I don’t have kids but if I did, I wouldn’t want them to expect gifts/presents on their birthday or for Christmas or other times. I would want them to know how to graciously accept what they are given but to never expect that they should have it or that they deserve it. However, I don’t know if I’d ever be able to actually teach that lesson.


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