Tuesday, December 11, 2007

More on Fairness

It is interesting reading your long and thoughtful comments. Those of you who read the past two posts on gift-giving and fairness may want to go back and read the comments. There are some really good ones.

Carolie has a wonderful account of how her parents taught her and her siblings generosity.

I've been thinking about the special difficulties presented by having biokids and foster kids. Andrew and Brian are confident that we love them and will provide for them. They are basically generous people. I honestly can't remember either of them getting seriously put out because some other child got something they did not. And the other boys have definitely got large-ticket items from the agency under situations that they would not. David came here having failed every class the year before. One of the classes he signed up for was digital arts and his social worker told him that if he got at least a C in everything at mid-term she would buy him a $200 digital camera. He did, and she bought it. Shortly after he moved in, the agency bought Evan a laptop computer. When Evan got a job, the agency bought him a $300 bicycle.

Andrew and Brian may have sighed a bit to themselves, but they did not complain to me. They knew that I would not have bought them similar items under such similar circumstances. If they had wanted similar items they could, at best, expect me to be willing to match money they have saved. Of course David and Evan would be appalled if Andrew or Brian had been jealous. They would look at Andrew and Brian's piles of accumulated stuff, not to mention the whole living with one set of loving parents you entire life, and been disgusted. How could they possibly complain?

And to their credit, they rarely do.

On the other hand, Evan, David and Carl have been understandably anxious about whether they are loved as much and Andrew and David. Every one of them kept a sort of internal account of things I had done for the bioboys as compared to what I had done for them. It always seemed to me that what they choose to add or not add was a bit skewed. My favorite example is Evan and the driving. He periodically pointed out how often I gave Brian rides to his friends' houses. Several times a week, I would drive Brian to visit his friend who lived 10 blocks away. Sometimes I told Brian to walk, but he could often talk me into giving him a ride. Even if he walked up, I would go get him. (Part of the dynamic was that his friend's parents would give him a ride if I did not. It was complicated). Evan would point out, rightly, that I would not have been willing to give him (at age 18 or 19) rides to friends who lived 10 blocks away, but was always given rides to Brian (at age 11 and 12). What was especially was strange to me was that at the time that Evan was complaining about this I was driving him into The City for appointments once or twice a week. Each trip took two, three or even four hours out of my life.

From Evan's perspective my giving him rides to his necessary appointments was irrelevant. He needed to go there. Brian was being pampered and spoiled in ways that I would never spoil him. Had Brian known about Evan being annoyed about it, he would in turn be irritated. Brian did not complain about my being gone for hours twice a week because Evan needed me to be. Evan lost nothing by my spending 10 minutes giving him a life to a friend's house. What did Evan have to complain about?

I actually do have a point in this post, and it is a fairly obvious one. Well, it is obvious when you stop to think about it.

Foster kids are insecure relative to biokids. They desperately want to feel that they are loved and valued as much as the biokids, and they find it almost impossible to believe that it could be true. I don't know if it ever really goes away.

And that is why Christmas is potentially so frustrating for me. This year it is particularly delicate because all the kids who have emancipated came to us from the foster care system and both of the kids who are living at home are biokids. If I make a distinction which I think is based upon "older v younger" it will be perceived as "bio v foster."


Some of you shared about your own experiences with your sibs and parents. Here's mine.

When I turned 16 I got a job and my mother no longer gave me allowance. My sister's last two years in high school she did not work and my mother gave her was I thought was an outrageous amount of money in allowance. As I remember it, I think I was miffed and knew better than to say anything to my mother who would NOT have appreciated any comments on that score.

As adults I know that my sister received much more support from my parents. She and her husband struggle financially. My father has often paid for things they cannot afford and I can honestly say that that has not bothered me. On the other hand, he usually visits during the summer and typically gets to my house first. If he offers to buy my children presents, I don't let him forget. He tends take us out to dinner, even if I insist that I can and am happy to cook. He spends money impulsively, and by the time he gets to my sister's house he is usually running short on his budget. He rarely spends nearly as much money on them as he has on us. He doesn't take them out to dinner, though my sister hates to cook. He offers to buy her kids presents, and she does not make him remember to do it.

There have been other times when he has sent her large checks for Christmas and nothing to me. Once he sent her two checks and nothing to me (I think that was simply a mistake, but not the sort of mistake that most people would make. I suspect the influence of alcohol). Both of us, adults that we are, find this sort of treatment bothersome. Neither of us waste much emotional energy on it -- it is how our father is. On the other hand, neither of us would take his behavior as a model.

My mother made out her will years ago and called me to say that she wanted to leave the same amount of money to each of her grandchildren, but as I had two and Sis had three that meant that her family would receive more money than mine. I told her that I thought that was the way it should be. She called me just a few weeks ago to say that she was thinking about offering to buy pay for orthodontia for my niece. It would be expensive and there was no way she could offer anything similar to any of the other grandchildren, but my niece really needs the work done. I agreed.

My sister needs help that I don't need. I am glad my parents are willing to give it to her.

Some of you have used the phrase "life is not fair" and though I agree with what you have said in general, I would not use that expression for the sort of disparities that we are talking about here. I DO think that parents need to help children learn to deal with the fact that life is unfair, but I don't think we do that by being unfair.

I think the issue is that there are different conceptions of what it means to be fair. Parents are being fair to their children when they respond to each child's needs with equal attention. Giving each child what that child needs is treating them fairly -- even when what each child needs is very different.

It is never easy, and when some of your children come from very different backgrounds, when the world has already treated them unfairly, and when they find it difficult or impossible to believe that you would be any different, it is worse.


  1. I agree, Yondalla, that parents should do their best to make sure things are balanced, and that only cruelty is served by going out of one's way to be purposefully "unfair" just to teach a life lesson.

    I also agree though, that it's important to help children (and adult children) understand that everyone's needs and desires are different...sort of along the lines of "well, he got ten presents to your one, but he is a little kid who wanted inexpensive things (blocks, a book, a teddy bear) and you are a teenager who wanted a video iPod. Would you have preferred ten less expensive gifts to unwrap, and not gotten the iPod?"

    Or even as adults...last year I got several little tchotchkes from Mom (a ruana she wove herself, a cool pair of beaded earrings, etc.) and Youngest Brother needed a fat check to help him out of a financial hole. If we'd been brought up like my poor sister in law, I am sure I would have been jealous that he got FAR more monetary value than I did, and he would have been jealous that he only got a piece of paper, and I got several handmade gifts to unwrap. Instead, I was pleased Mom was financially able to help Youngest Brother, and he honestly enjoyed seeing my pleasure as I modelled earrings and ruana for everyone.

    My goal at the moment is to help my nieces find the same joy I find in thinking up gifts for others. At 7 and 5, they began to "get it" a couple of years ago, I think, when they gave me a little plate they'd made with their mother, decorated using their handprints as flowers, and fingerprints as bees and caterpillars. I got all tearful, of course (I somehow got extra helpings of sentiment when I was born, I guess!) The older child whispered to the younger, to ease her concern over my tears, "It's ok...Aunt Carolie's happy, not sad. You know you picked the right thing for her if she cries. She really LIKES homemade stuff."

    As for the foster vs. the bio boys, I can see how there may always be some comparison and a certain blindness to what may be reality, simply due to the insecurities born of their life circumstances beyond your control. I admire how much careful thought you put into gift giving and other situations, and how well you have raised the bio boys to understand the circumstances.

  2. "Giving each child what that child needs is treating them fairly -- even when what each child needs is very different."

    That's very true, and it immediately made me think about your foster sons. Maybe one way to look at it is that they "need" a certain amount of presents, not because they need those specific items but because they need the reminder that they are loved and cared for. Maybe this is similar to your niece's orthodontia - it provides treatment for a problem that not all of your kids have, and therefore it is "fair" that Evan at 20 gets things that you would not give to Andrew at 20.


Comments will be open for a little while, then I will be shutting them off. The blog will stay, but I do not want either to moderate comments or leave the blog available to spammers.