March 11, 2009

"It's not fair!"

This is the most frequently used phrase in our house.  Robotson probably says this at least once an hour, but every once in a while I find myself saying it as well.  Sometimes I even say it out loud.  He's eight, but why do I still look for some cosmic balance?  

Even as an atheist, I still "believed" that the universe would right itself if things fell too heavily in one direction.  Most of that changed in 2007*.  When B's grandfather died I remember saying what I usually say, "Deaths come in threes.  I wonder who will be next?"  Imagine my horror when we drove past a terrible car accident on the way back from the grocery store.  We had the kids with us and I was pregnant with Dimples.  Robotson says, "That looks like Granny and Papa's truck."   That was the beginning of a string of unfairness.  But where is the balance?  There has been no slew of fantastic things that have happened to us since.  Perhaps I should look at it differently.  Is the cosmic lesson, "It could have been worse."?  If the worst possible had happened, with the exception of B's dad, the rest of his family would have been dead, including us.  We had a faulty HVAC unit that was throwing sparks when the heat flipped on and the very same unit burned our neighbor's house to the ground on Valentine's Day.  It wasn't as bad as it could have been, but when you put it all together- it was still a pretty awful year.   And it wasn't fair at all.  

In my son's case, most of what he labels unfair is actually quite the opposite.  It's unfair that I ask him to clean up messes he makes or do his own laundry.  It's also not fair that he should have to bathe, brush his teeth, and wear his glasses so he can see at the computer.  It's a pretty typical phrase for kids this age and I'm sure I am in for many, many years of this as the girls are already picking up on it.  It's an interesting phrase because it's not reasonable.  Without thinking, sometimes I would say, "Life isn't fair."  or "It's perfectly fair that you should have to X."   As you might imagine, that doesn't go over well.  I think it's a hard realization when it finally hits you that there is no balance to the world.  Real balance, not the kid idea of balance, but it starts out when they are kids realizing that they don't get everything they want.  Then it's my job as a parent to keep this dialogue going, no matter how tiring it gets.  Expecting things to always be even, fair, and balanced is a denial of reality.  On the other hand, if many good things happen to you, there is no reason to think something bad is just around the corner either.  

I finally admitted to myself that all the superstitious beliefs I was holding on to were false.  Bad things don't happen in threes.  Bad and good things happen to good and bad people.  You don't always "get what's coming to you."  Good deeds do go unpunished.  (That's such an annoying phrase and yet I have experienced it and thought it myself.  It still bugs me.)   These beliefs are hard to drop.  I still find them floating through my mind, but far less than before.  It's so much better to face the world as it really is and not look to the universe to right itself.  If you want good things to happen for you, get out there and work for them.  There's no guarantee of course, but it's a lot more likely to happen.  That's what I want to teach my kids.  

*This is the second time in a month I've mentioned 2007.  I'm not looking for pity.  That year changed so much about me and our family that it is just not possible to relate stories of our lives now without also talking about how we got here.  I don't want to make it a theme, but I have been thinking about a lot of these events lately so it's on my mind.  


  1. Great post! It does take a conscious effort to stop deeply-rooted thoughts about cosmic balance. "Luck" is another hard one to shake. How many of us still say "good luck" when we don't actually believe in it?

    I still remember my obsession with fairness growing up as well. When my mother said, "life isn't fair," I always replied, "maybe it would be if people stopped just saying that and started trying to make it fair." Somehow that never spurred anyone to action, though.

    I do think "life isn't fair" CAN be a cop-out, kind of like "if it's meant to be, it will be." But it's also a reality. Maybe life could be more fair if people put more effort into treating other people fairly, but lightning doesn't think about fairness when it's about to strike.

  2. In an effort to find a good reply to the many offers of religious tracts that I seem to get I stole someone else's line "thanks but I'm not superstitious." The problem was that I then realized that this wasn't true; I am superstitious, and it bothered me. So since then I've tried hard to violate as many superstitious rules as I can without actually going out of my way to be obnoxious about it. It has helped, but the more interesting part is how others respond to my violations of the rules--I'm generally rebuked. I'd never realized just how superstitious people really are.

  3. Lorry- I agree, saying life isn't fair is sort of lame. There is plenty that I can do just in our everyday life to try to keep things on a level playing field. But, I also don't think that everything needs to be equal either. I try to do what seems appropriate given the situation and person involved. I have a pet peeve with zero tolerance policies that remove all thinking from decisions. It might be "fair" but in a bad way.

    Russell-I hear you! Just this afternoon we were at my parent's house and my 3yo asked to play with my mom's little American flag. My mom got pretty upset and asked that I take it away in case it touched the floor. At first I had no idea what she was talking about. Well my daughter did drop it before I got it back from her and my mom was really upset. I wonder if she's going to burn it now? LOL It's so ridiculous, the earth didn't stop rotating and the army didn't show up to arrest us for allowing it to touch the ground. It's a silly rule, made up by men, and to what purpose? I guess so little kids can't play with flags.

  4. We had a run of "life isn't fair" from Ella because of her food allergies. Being a realist, I explained to my little 5 year old just how true that statement is. No, life isn't fair. Unfair things happen all the time. We all have to get used to it because unfair things will happen throughout our lives - to us and everybody we know. We have to learn to live with unfair situations or events. (I did throw in a little positivity by saying good things/fair things do happen too!).