July 31


Parenting the Goldfish Counters: Dealing with the Demand for “Fairness”

By Anna Joy

July 31, 2014

Yep, I’m still stuck on the goldfish crackers.

In my last post, I talked about the fact that I have kids counting each others’ goldfish crackers. And while I might try to tell you that this is a wonderful way to teach math, or a great rainy day occupation, I am afraid that the goldfish cracker counting is the result of a sickness of the heart. They are busy counting each other’s goldfish crackers to make sure that the piles were distributed equally and that life is fair. If the piles are not completely equal, they will be quick to let me know.

How should I respond to this demand for fairness?

This sin sickness of unhealthy comparisons resides in my heart (see post Counting the Goldfish Crackers) and the hearts of my children, and I cannot change anyone’s heart. Only God can do that. But, my question is, how can I wisely respond to this demand for “fairness” from my children? And am I partly fueling the need for “fairness” by how I parent? I mean, honestly, it is so much easier to just correct the injustice (“He got fifteen goldfish, I only got thirteen!” “All right, honey, just take two more.”) than to stop and deal with the heart attitude in my children. Here are some things that I have been wrestling with lately:

1.  Am I teaching my kids to differentiate between perceived injustice and actual injustice?

My kids may  be complaining of “perceived” injustices that aren’t even real injustices at all. (I am thinking of the Cosby Show episode where Rudy is sure that her teacher hates her because of many perceived injustices including the fact that the teacher hung Rudy’s artwork at the bottom of the board. Bill Cosby (Rudy’s father) goes in for a parent/teacher conference.  While the teacher is out of the room, Bill compares Rudy’s artwork with the other students’ artwork, declares that Rudy’s is the best, and moves Rudy’s artwork to the top of the board – its rightful place. The teacher walks back into the room, immediately notices that Bill has moved Rudy’s picture to the top, and then explains hogold fish 4w she hung the artwork not according to ability but according to alphabetical order and had started with “Z” at the top just to mix things up a bit.) As a parent, I need to determine whether there is an actual injustice or a perceived injustice, and if the injustice is only perceived, walk my kids through how their perceptions are wrong.  I am doing my kids no favors by jumping onto their little band wagons of perceived injustice.

2.  Am I too quick to eliminate actual injustice from my kids’ lives?

God may very well be putting an “unfair” situation in my child’s life to teach him more about God Himself. Too often, though, my tendency is to thwart God’s lesson for my child by rushing in to correct the injustice. Is my child being unfairly treated by a teacher or a coach? Instead of duking it out with the coach or teacher, maybe I should be teaching my kid about Jesus Christ who was unfairly treated by the religious and civil leaders of His time. Did the library run out of summer reading awards and my child did not get one even though she completed the reading program? Perhaps, instead of rushing out to buy her a gift to make up for it, I could talk to her about how she can receive an award that she does not deserve and that cannot be taken away from her because of what Jesus did for her on the cross.

3.  Am I redirecting my kids’ (and my own) comparisons?

When my kids are comparing themselves to someone who has more, perhaps I could encourage them to compare themselves with someone who has less. We always compare ourselves to others only in the aspects that we want. We envy him having that toy, but do we envy him having a little sister who is sick all the time? We envy her house, but do we envy her having a husband who is constantly traveling? We envy him his success in ministry, but do we envy him his past struggles with his rebellious son? We envy her fast metabolism, but do we envy her migraines? Would we really want to trade lives with that person, or do we just want that one little “good” aspect of their life?

4.  Am I exercising generosity and grace towards others?

When I am envying her house, perhaps taking a meal to a local homeless shelter might reset my thoughts a bit. When my kids are complaining about someone else having more toys or goldfish 1electronics, perhaps some time flipping through a Compassion Magazine will help to adjust the attitude. Even better yet, maybe we could work as a family to make some extra money and then donate it to buy a water filtration system for an impoverished family in Uganda. Somehow that fancier house, that newer electronic, or that perfect body shape doesn’t seem so important when we realize that some people don’t even have access to clean water.

5. Am I ultimately pointing my kids to Jesus?

Am I telling them the most unfair story of the ages – how the only perfect man to ever live, the very Son of God who created the world and deserves all worship, honor, and glory suffered great injustice and hung on a shameful cross, rejected by men and forsaken by God, in our place so that we might be justified before a Holy God? Am I telling my kids that while I was lost in my sins, Jesus died in my place so that when God looks at me, He sees the righteousness of His beloved Son? Perhaps, instead of correcting the injustice, or telling my kids “Life isn’t fair, get over it”, perhaps I should be telling them this story. And, perhaps, it wouldn’t hurt if I preached it to myself once in a while, too.

Have you struggled with this demand for “fairness” in your family?  How have you approached this issue?  I would love to hear your thoughts.  Please comment below.


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