Monday, December 10, 2007

The Difficulty of Fairness

Jody writes:

Hubby and I are "discussing" this issue right now. I was raised that each kid got (for example) $100 worth of presents. If that was 1 big thing or 10 little things, it really didn't matter. Value was always equal. Hubby was raised each kid gets the same # of gifts regardless of value.
Roland and I have actually worked to be equal in both senses. We found that kids count the presents before Christmas and expect that there should be an equal number. On the other hand, we have felt like we should spend the same amount of money on each. In order to make that happen we have sometimes wrapped two things up together or bought very inexpensive presents so that we have more things to wrap.

Once we started doing care we pulled Andrew and Brian aside to explain that we did not think that all the aunts and uncles would be giving Carl presents and so we would give him a few extra presents. The first year we over-shot and Carl had more things to open than anyone, but no one seemed to mind. We didn't usually spend (much) more on the foster boys. Sometimes we bought things that we knew the agency would reimburse, like clothing, and even labeled it from "Uncle John" (using the real first name of the man who founded our agency). We later did the same for David and Evan.

Andrew and Brian have generous spirits and never minded -- although I think it helped that we did not actually spend (much) more money on the other boys. We aren't worrying about it this year, at least I don't think we are. As the kids get older there are fewer extended family members who send gifts anyway. There may be a disparity in that I have always taken money out of my children's allowances for the buying of presents, so Andrew and Brian will buy for Evan and David as a matter of course. How much money they have for themselves will not be affected. Evan and David however are surviving on their own incomes and may or may not bring home presents for us, and if they do it might be a small gift to the whole family.

It gets complicated at we move from a small family to a big family, and we are not quite clear on how to do it. It has been a genuine part of our discussions about whether to continue to do care. In the past the budget has been about $100 per kid, but that gets more difficult as we add kids. I mean, we have five now.

A couple of things we agree on. One is that there is some point where a child has become an adult and it is no longer necessary to spend the same amount of money one them. We agree that Carl, at 24 and living far away and on his own, has reached that point. He will get a card and a check from us, but it won't be for the same amount.

I am not sure that we agree about what to do about Carl because Carl is 24 or if it is because he lives far away and isn't coming home. See, we also agree that it is awkward to have all the children home and have significantly disparate gift amounts. When I imagine myself in the position of a 20-year-old at home for Christmas getting far less than my 13-year-old sibling, I imagine that I would feel jealous. I might try to convince myself that I shouldn't, but I would. Roland definitely sees it that way. He wants, I think indefinitely, to have the same budget for any kid who gets his (or maybe someday her) butt home for Christmas.

And at $100 a butt, we need to give this some serious thought. (Pardon my language).

I only know what we have decided for this year. All the kids who are coming home are getting equal value from us. One issue is of course that all the kids who still live here full-time are bioboys. We may both be more comfortable spending less on older kids when Andrew is one of the "older kids."

Anyway, there isn't really a point to this, just a rambling about how difficult it is to be fair. And as long as I am rambling, I might as well point out one more issue: In my case I have felt the need to at least sometimes give more presents to foster kids to make up for their lack of extended family, but other families have the opposite problem. Sometimes the foster kids' families do send gifts, and sometimes, I am told, they are expensive gifts. Families, immediate and extended, who cannot provide care for the children sometimes try to make it up with presents.

I suppose this is a problem for all people who have blended families, whatever the sources which have added to that blend. If your kids have different extended families then they will probably get different numbers and value of presents. Trying to even things out when you are dealing with that can be impossible.

Like I said, this whole fairness thing can just suck all the fun out of the holiday -- if you let it.


  1. We do the balance too. When the kids were younger, it was much more about the number of presents to them than the amount spent. As they aged, the financial part was more important to them ... and our gifts reflected that.

    I absolutely love to give surprises too. For me, it's the same desire you have in trying to get that "perfect" gift, something that shows I put the thought and love behind it that I feel for the person.

    The last year or two we've just gone with what we thought the kids would like. We try to keep the number of gifts and the price within the same range, but it's not perfect.

    My oldest two have the blended family thing going, meaning they get "more" from the other family connection. The good part about it is the older two do that side of gift-giving away from here; the gifts are not opened in front of the other three kids. Then it's a little less "in your face" for them.

    Older kids? My favorite gift to my oldest is a grocery store gift card. Then I know he's got food in his house. Another good one is a gas card. Not the most thoughtful and innovative but nevertheless handy.

  2. Mom and Dad tried very hard, when we were kids, to be relatively balanced about Christmas. But one of the most important lessons I think my parents taught us is that LIFE IS NOT FAIR.

    That doesn't always mean "you will always get the short end of the stick" but it does mean that things are not always even. They did try to get us involved with things though.

    We had very little money growing up, and one year, my youngest brother (there are three of us, I'm the eldest and the only girl) got a bicycle for Christmas. It was an expensive gift, and we other two were not getting anything near so big and exciting.

    Our parents recruited us into the surprise, explaining beforehand that I'd gotten a bicycle for my birthday some years before, as had Middle Boy, now it was Youngest Boy's turn, and did we want to help with the surprise?

    Another year, Middle Boy got an electronic keyboard that was far more expensive than the gifts others got...but he had incredible musical talent, and I'd gotten exactly what I wanted (books and clothes). When I made some comment about "well, you must love him more, spending so much on him," Mom turned to me in astonishment. "You got exactly what you asked for, didn't you? You're happy with what you got, right? Do you wish we'd disappointed your brother instead?" I was ashamed of myself.

    If my parents thought we were busier looking at what the others got than looking at our own haul, they had no compunction about taking things away for a brief while.

    It makes me sad to see my sister-in-law with her own sisters at any holiday. They are so busy craning their necks to see what the others got, complaining loudly or whispering bitterly that "she got more/better/nicer/whatever than I did..." And these are adult women I'm talking about -- I'm sure they were far worse as kids.

    Why is it so hard for us humans to be happy for each other's joy, to be delighted that someone we love is delighted? The two years we had short-term foster kids, we three had a BLAST putting together piles of gifts for our foster brothers, even asking "Santa" to give them some of the things we'd asked for for ourselves. I've brought home lonely strays for Christmas as an adult, and was very pleased when Mom surreptitiously replaced some of the gift cards on gifts meant for me with my stray friend's name instead.

    NO, we aren't saints or paragons of virtue. Yes, I think parents should try to be balanced when possible. But teaching children that life is FAIR is a disservice, I think.

    I love your thoughtful posts, make me think, and often answer questions about life I didn't know I had.

  3. I agree Carolie.

    Getting to that place has been easier for the bioboys, in general. Of course there is a good reason for that...they have much less anxiety about whether they are loved.

    It is harder for the foster boys. It is not that they are less considerate, generous or loving, but they do have more anxiety. They compare more and are more likely to feel genuinely hurt if they think they got less or even gloat if they feel they got more.

  4. It's always been a little weird in my family because of the huge age difference between me and my siblings. I don't actually know what my mother spends on me (36) vs. my brother (27) and my sister (17). I do know that my brother and I have the option of getting either a gift or a check, whereas my sister just gets gifts. I don't think it would bother me to find out that my mother spends more on either of my siblings than she does on me, because they're both students and don't work, whereas I do work and can buy things for myself if I want them. I'm really pretty grateful just to get anything at all.

  5. I hadn't thought about the anxiety issues foster children surely must have...and their need to compare what they get to what the "real" children and/or other foster children get. While I'm sure it gets a little easier as they become adults, I bet those issues never really go away.

  6. Another issue Hubby and I are having is that his brother who turned 15 in Nov still expects to receive EXACTLY the same amount as our kids 7&5 or our nieces 9&4. I think it is time S realizes he's not a little kid and that we do spend more on his 1 or 2 gifts than we do on the kids 10 gifts. There has to be a point where they figure out (like the comment above) that LIFE IS NOT FAIR!

  7. To Jody's comment- I have a neice who is 18. till I started fostering- she was the only child in the family and has always raked it in- but she is spoiled beyond belief and entitled so it has not been fun to give her anything in a long time. This year she is a freshman in college- we told her the gig is up- we aren't doing gifts for the adults in the family as far as extended family so not to expect it- (this was done by my younger sister with some sarcasm) Niece was mad but got over it- she will probably pout Christmas eve when G gets showered with gifts but it is time for her to grow up and sadly - her mom does not help her in this.


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