Big family life has taught me a lot as a mom. Some of the adjustments being responsible for eight backpacks, twenty feet, and ten heads of hair (well, nine really - Scott shaves his own head!) have been bothersome. A prime example is the beast I'm forced to drive. It's been called the party bus and other less flattering names. Don't get me wrong, I really love what happens inside of it. It's super fun to have room for the whole basketball team and I love road trips with my family all together in one vehicle. But there's no way around the fact that our twelve passenger van is big and ugly. I made a secret deal with myself when we bought it. It's purchase had to include a really fabulous pair of boots for me, the driver, to off-set the ugly factor of my new wheels. I like my boots, but the van's still just an evil by-product of having a big family.
Whether we speak it out loud or not, each of us must make daily determinations about how "fairness" works in our family. Lots of us fight a niggling sensation that we're giving someone a raw deal or worry that the label "Unfair" might rightly apply to us.
Fair my "no's" started multiplying. "No, we can't get ice cream because I don't have enough money in my wallet for all of us." "No, you can't get that awesome shirt on clearance because they don't have them in everybody's sizes." No, we shouldn't rent that movie tonight because everyone isn't home and they might feel left out." "No, I can't buy you basketball shoes because I can't buy everyone new shoes today." The "no's" can go on forever and stop every shred of fun in our house as we pursue the Fairness Phantom. I realized I had a faulty definition of fairness, one that was making me irrational.
One day, while my mouth was beginning to form one of those "no's" lightning struck my brain.
What if "fair" doesn't really mean even or equal, but instead means everybody getting what they need when they need it?
A new dawn of "yes's" began to open up to me as I imagined letting specific, individual needs and opportunities drive my answers instead of the overwhelming force of keeping track of turns and statistics. Our family life was re-born when we decided that "fair" in our family means that needs are met when they arise and resources are available.
This new way of thinking was revolutionary. I've found that I can be a fun mom with a limited wallet and energy. I've started to look forward to moments when I'm alone with one or two children and can unexpectedly pull through the drive-through to offer them something that would be off-limits when we're a big group. There's delicious freedom in handing over what I've got rather than using my energy to parcel and divide. And there's beauty in a specific child being able to receive it all sometimes.
There's power in the redefinition of fair for the kids on each side of the "yes." The child who receives learns to feel the warmth of blessing and practice gratefulness. They also have opportunities to learn what it is to be a gracious receiver in the presence of someone else who is not receiving. The child who waits and watches a brother receive can find satisfaction in knowing that their needs will be met as they come.
"Fairness equals equality" isn't all it's cracked up to be. We need to be teaching our children that fact. Fairness expressed in a quest for identical even-ness didn't work in communist Russia and it doesn't work in our families. It's time our kids find out that FAIR is just a place to get really awesome elephant ears.
When we learn to be honest about our resources and intentional about applying those resources to each individual need, we teach our kids important life lessons. And we also find ourselves in line for elephant ears more often!