Spreading the love

It’s not easy to be fair in a family with more than one child in it, but we need to be consistent
By Paul Kerton

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One of the most difficult things as a parent of more than one child is spreading the love (and money, and time, and opportunities, and food, and things) evenly between the brood. It is a seemingly impossible task to be fair to everyone, certainly at the younger end, but this gets easier as they get older and are able to reason.
My take is that provided you spread the love (and money) evenly between the two or more children over a prolonged time frame you are doing well. If you can look back over the year and think, “Well, X got a new bike and Y went to Switzerland on a school skiing trip, and Z got a bigger ‘designer’ bedroom,” then you have achieved a certain balance. Nobody – whether it’s the children themselves or friends, grandparents, ex-partners looking in – can complain, and you can sleep well.
This is tricky when they are younger and have yet to develop that all-important reasoning faculty, and a sense of responsibility for their own actions. An older daughter or son rightly gets peeved when the youngest is allowed a sleepover three years before the eldest was ever entrusted with the privilege; or when the six year old wants the same cellphone that the eldest had waited 12 years to get. The very fact that technology is moving at such a pace and is readily accessible means that younger children are copying elder siblings and becoming technologically savvy at a frighteningly early age.
What I found difficult to explain to my youngest is that just because we buy X a dress or a bike, doesn’t mean that Y has to get one at the same time. They may get one, but not right now. All children need more or less the same things, but at different stages. “Patience” and the concept of “your time will come” are alien concepts to a four year old seeking instant gratification. They want something NOW and trying to explain the concept of “fairness over time” is tough: “Saskia didn’t get anything last weekend when you got new shoes, so now it is her turn.” Luckily younger children have no concept of value or worth so you can easily fob them off with something that is eminently cheaper than a new bike – such as a fairy cake – although this simple blackmailing technique loses its potency as they get older and begin to understand pricing and get better at maths.
Failure to spread the love properly can capsize a well-balanced family unit if you allow it to get lopsided, so you need to be strong and consistent in your judgement and resolve. You can drive yourself nuts if you try and react to all their crazy demands and any accusations of favouritism. But in a world where “stuff” and “possessions” speak louder than emotions, it is easy to forget that above all the bikes, new dresses and fancy holidays, it is a hug and knowing that you love them and are there for them that really counts for something.
Pull that off and you’ve cracked it.

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