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Topic: Parenting

Life’s Not Fair, and Other Helpful Truths for Children

January 29, 2015

by Candice Watters

“Let’s make sure these are equal,” said the check out lady at the grocery store. She had just ripped a strip of stickers from a big roll and was counting them off before handing them it over to our six year old. She then ripped a second strip of exactly the same number and gave them to our eight year old. “I know how it is when things aren’t fair!” she pronounced, looking at me.

“And don’t we all know that life’s not fair,” I said. “The sooner they learn that, the better prepared they’ll be for life in the real world!” She looked at me, staring in a sort of disbelief as I said, “We don’t need the same amount of stickers. They’ll be fine if one gets more.”

“I’ve never heard a parent say that before. What a wise mom you are,” she said.

I can’t take credit for any wisdom in my approach to sticker distribution. The idea occurred to me after hearing Randy Stinson talk about looking for opportunities to teach kids that life’s not fair. He told the story of not only looking for opportunities, but actually creating them.

“When I go on a business trip,” he said, “I buy one toy to bring home for the kids.” The Stinsons have eight kids. One toy, eight kids. You do the math. “What would be a disaster in most homes,” he said, “we see as a ripe opportunity for training. The first time I did this, here’s how it went down. I said, ‘Kids, I have a surprise. Seven of you are going to get to rejoice with one of you, who is going to get a toy!’ It wasn’t an instant success. But over time, they learned to ‘rejoice with the one who was rejoicing.'” Even though each kid eventually gets a turn to be given a toy, with such a big family, there’s a lot more practice rejoicing at someone else’s blessing.

I winced when I first heard his story. It seemed almost cruel to be the one inflicting unfairness on a child, when so much will come on its own in this fallen world. But Stinson isn’t the only one who knows that kids need to learn this lesson. In today’s Wall Street Journal, columnist Daniel Henninger writes about recent political calls for fairness in our economy. Henninger writes,

Other than the president, the one other slice of the American population that obsesses over fairness everywhere is children. Every parent knows that about the age of four, kids in groups start saying, “That’s not fair.”

If you have a birthday party and cut pieces of the cake for all, one of them will say, “Her piece is bigger than mine. Why is she getting a bigger piece? That’s not fair.”

And parents, ever since Adam and Eve left the Garden of Eden, have felt obliged to instruct their children on the reality. Life isn’t going to be “fair.” And the path into the future requires more than envy, tantrums and grabbing what belongs to others.

Indeed parents should, for the sake of economic stability, teach their kids that life’s not fair. But Christian parents must know the stakes are infinitely higher.

Unfairness introduced on purpose by a loving parent creates opportunities for training, and discipleship. In that controlled setting, it’s possible to talk about the realities of unfairness, the Christian imperative of rejoicing with those who rejoice, and our need to entrust ourselves to the only One who judges justly. Most importantly, it creates opportunities to talk about what we really deserve: not an equal share of the cake or piece of the pie, but God’s righteous judgment for our sin. We deserve hell. In Christ, we are forgiven and receive what we don’t deserve: restored fellowship with God, and the inheritance of sons.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith–more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls (1 Peter 1:3-9).

This is an unfairness to rejoice over throughout eternity.

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