That’s Just Not Fair

August 20, 2013

By Lisa Hartwig

Lisa is the mother of 3 gifted children and lives outside of San Francisco.

Vintage Balance Scale“That’s not fair.” It’s my daughter’s motto. It is usually followed by a list of reasons why my request (to walk the dog or clean her room) is unfair and unreasonable. Her reasons are complicated, and I sometimes have difficulty understanding them. Her excellent memory allows her to reach back several weeks to describe previous events and conversations that provide evidence of the irrationality of my request. When she does this, I’m at a loss. I can’t even remember what I had for breakfast.

My daughter expects the world to operate in a way that is entirely fair and logical. She hates inconsistency. In her world, the rules are the same for everyone—children and adults alike. A rule and the intent behind the rule must match precisely. She demands precision from herself and those around her. The thought process she uses to support her positions is complex. I understand that there is a phrase to describe this behavior: “logical imperative.”

My daughter has a strong logical imperative. The way she expects the world to operate is often at odds with the way the world (and her family) actually operates. When this happens she argues. She will argue with teachers, coaches, and most especially, me. She is on a quest to mold the world into a place that makes sense. She uses her extreme sense of fairness, her precision and her intensity to accomplish the task. To borrow a concept from The Legend of Zelda, this is her Triforce. With this power, she is likely to rule the world.

Her drive toward world domination begins at home. Small battles occur in our house daily. Most of the arguments happen when my husband and I try to pull parental rank on her. “Because I am the parent” never works with her. Aesthetic judgments need to be backed up by reason. Why should she make her bed when she will need to get into it again that evening? Even federal regulations are open to interpretation. It makes no sense for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to require 12-year-olds to ride in the rear of the car when she (at 12) is as big as her 80 year old great aunt who sits in the front seat.

Blind obedience to a coach has never been her strong suit. I have seen her shout to her coach from the soccer field to let him know she was already “on it.” At circus camp, my daughter took on the juggling instructor and “won.” Already and excellent juggler, she rotated into the juggling group on the first day of camp. The instructor established “clubs” to incentivize the campers. Joining a club meant signing a poster with the words “25 Club” or “50 Club” written on the top. When a camper juggles 3 balls for 25 rotations, she joins the “25 Club.” Fifty rotations got you into the “50 Club.” On her first try, my daughter juggled 3 balls for 50 rotations. Her coach told her to sign her name on the paper that said “50 Club.” My daughter also wanted to join the “25 Club.” Her coach said no. After arguing that this wasn’t fair, she proceeded to juggle for 25 rotations and drop the balls. He still said no. She made her case every day until the day her good friend graduated from the 25 Club to the 50 Club. She finally reached the limits of her (and subsequently, her coach’s) tolerance. She demanded that she be placed in both clubs. Her coach finally relented and order was restored in the world.

While you might find it difficult to be my daughter’s parent, coach or teacher, you would be lucky to be her friend. I saw that last spring during a volleyball game. Her 6th grade team was losing badly during the first set. The coach pulled them aside after the set and belittled them. According to the coach, the team was not serious. They were goofing around. No wonder they were getting slaughtered, they weren’t even trying. They were going to lose. My daughter sat through the diatribe quietly and then caught the eye of her best friend. Her best friend’s face was bright red with frustration and embarrassment. That was the incentive my daughter needed to confront the 60-year-old male coach. She told him that what he was saying was both unfair and unproductive. He was not motivating the team, he was demeaning them. Just because they were having fun didn’t mean they were not serious. They returned to the game and won the last 2 sets. He later apologized.

My daughter will need to learn how to walk the fine line between the fight for fairness and act of letting go. I say the same serenity prayer for her that I say for myself:

God, grant her the serenity to accept the things she cannot change,
The courage to change the things she can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

While my daughter’s insistence on intellectual and moral honesty can make it difficult to find serenity in our home, I take pleasure in her fierce desire to hold the world around her to a higher standard. As the years go by, I will watch with fascination as she tries to make it comply.

Do your kids grapple with issues of justice and “fairness”? Please share in the comment section below!

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