In my early stages of my parenting, I was committed to treating my children equally. I assumed that also meant I was treating them fairly. That was going to be my parenting claim to fame and definitely fulfill my vision as a mother -there’s no favoritism in my house!

A few years in, I realized that experiment was a terrible choice.

I had two very different children that required different parenting. By treating them equally, I wasn’t giving them what they needed most from me.

Different isn’t better or worse. It simply means different.

For example, my oldest was very quiet, compliant, thoughtful, and curious. Most days, he needed very little correction or direction and could be reasoned with. When I tried connecting with him with emotional/relational language, he didn’t understand me and got frustrated with the lack of reasoning he needed.

My youngest was a fiery ball of emotion, living in the moment, fully experiencing life through his senses, which looked messier and louder in the process. When I tried intellectual reasoning with him, it blew up in my face! He felt invalidated and needed a safe place to bring his sometimes overwhelming and non-linear emotions.

I let go of treating them equally and moved to parenting fairly.

What’s the difference? I gave what they needed from me in a way that honored who they were and at a time that fits their developmental stage, without judgment.

My oldest was very independent and learned how to put on his Velcro, red and white Nike shoes by about 2yrs old. My youngest threw a giant fit when asked to put on those same shoes at the same age. He was wasn’t less capable. He’s highly collaborative and relational so a small amount of help fill those needs.

My oldest got my old cell phone (text and calling only) when he was 10yrs old; something I swore I would never do (insert eating a LOT of crow). He needed an emergency phone and proved himself after I lent him my cell phone on multiple occasions. Our youngest got a cell phone at 14, when he was ready and wasn’t very bothered by the four-year difference.

Was the equal. No. Was it fair? I think so.

Equal – being the same in size, quantity, size, and degree

Fair – just or appropriate in the circumstances

Today, parenting has moved so far over to treating children equally simply for fear of hurting one’s feelings or being perceived as the mean parent. Giving teens more responsibility before they’re intellectually or emotionally ready sets them up to fail and creates entitlement. Expecting your children to be equal means at least one will feel shamed and criticized.

Greater independence and rewards are earned, not awarded equally.

How many jobs have you had where all promotions, wage increases, and bonuses were given out equally? What about extra privileges like the better office?

Your teenager is always going to press you for more independence and freedom. The question to ask is, are they ready? NOT when your other children the same independence or freedom, or even when you got it. Save ‘equal’ to handing out Halloween candy and do your best to parent fairly instead.

What’s your take on parenting fairly or equally? Have you found a way to incorporate both? Let me know in the comments below. And of course, share this with other parents who feel caught in the fair/equal dynamic.