Sunday, October 26, 2008

Guardianship III: What's Fair?

One of the parts of parenting that I like least is worrying about whether the kids will think I am being fair. It is just an impossible situation. I decided a long time ago that there was no way to be genuinely fair to all your kids. Either you attend to each kids needs, in which case they are not all getting the same thing, which isn't fair especially if what they need takes a disproportionate amount of time or money, OR you can give them all the same thing in which case you are almost certainly only meeting the needs of one kid.

I almost always go with individual needs, although I do try to even things out when I can. That doesn't always work though.

I went through a stretch of time with Evan where I was spending several evenings a week driving him to appointments in the city. We often ended up getting something to eat while we were there. After a while I realized that it had been weeks since I spent any one-on-one time with Andrew so I invited him out to a coffee shop. We hung for maybe an hour, probably less. When I came home Evan was hurt. I NEVER did things with him "just because." I only spent time with him because I had to. Evan was pretty obsessive about fairness, but I will attempt not to get distracted.

I do think about being "even" on holidays and birthdays, although I am realizing that I need to lower expectations from the older children. I haven't figured out exactly how to do that in a way that feels fair to me.

Brian and Andrew have always been pretty good about it, actually they have been great about it. When Gary moved in we bought him an iPod from a pawn shop just because he didn't have hardly anything. Brian doesn't have an iPod. He makes do with my cast off Sansa. He would love to have an iPod. He knows though that he has at various birthdays and Christmases had enough money for one. He spent the money on something else. Brian also knows that the iPod was a one-time-splurge.

The point of all this? Well, Process emailed me (I don't think she will mind me sharing the content since she said she was emailing me because the comment function wasn't working for her). She asked me a couple of good questions about the legal guardianship thing. They were good for me to think about, and the one that I missed completely was, "How do you think the older boys will feel about this?"

My initial response was on the lines of: the older boys didn't need me to consider this. Evan was almost 18 when he moved in, and David needed a light touch. Any attempt to "claim" him legally might result in him backing off. It might have been a good idea for Carl, but the agency did not support those sorts of moves then. Gary though is in a different place.

And that of course totally misses the point of Process' question. How the older boys would feel about it is completely separate from whether they would have wanted the same thing. It's the pony-effect. You know, one kid might not want a pony but that won't keep them from feeling jealous if you buy one for the other.

So now I get the point of the question and I am trying to puzzle it out. As I stop and think about it, I think Carl and Evan would definitely be jealous. They might understand, but they would be jealous. David would be harder to read. I expect he would be somewhat jealous, but in a quieter way. He won't say anything about it. If asked he will convincingly deny that it bothers him, but he won't look like he is bothered.

I don't know what to think about this, and I am not going to try too hard to figure it out until after we get some more information about what it would look like. I've toyed with the idea of bringing up the topic of adult adoption with the older boys... We really are not certain that it is in Gary's best interests. Roland also is concerned about not having social services in between us and Gary's dad. Neither of us want for Gary to be ineligible for any services, and we are both at least a little worried that it could cause more difficulty in Gary's relationship with his father. So we really don't know if we would do it.

Still, it seemed a good moment to write another post about the difficulties of fairness. I think they probably exist in all families, but it is exasperated when you have kids whose needs are so very different.

How do you handle it in your families?


  1. That is definitely an issue in our house. All of my kids (bio, adoptive, and foster) have varying needs and varying methods necessary to get results, and none of it would even out to being "fair."

    When one would complain about the unfairness, I remind him/her of the downside of treating everyone the same (earlier bed times, less privileges, etc.) compared to what he/she currently has.

    I look at it as my kids are all different and while I love them all the same, I do treat them differently based on their needs. Not less or more, just individually.

  2. I worry about this constantly! My eldest is an Aspergers person and "stuff" isn't all that important to him. He likes it, but he is also just as likely to give it away in a month or so when he feels he has derived whatever pleasure he can from it. It isn't a bad thought necessarily but if it is going to go to goodwill in 30 days, I am somewhat less inclined for it to be something I have to scrimp for to purchase for him.

    Also, he was never able to do things like team sports or away camp and these are things that Robbie has been able to do. They are not inexpensive and I often wonder if Chet has any feelings about it. Like your older boys he would deny it, and in Chet's case it is complicated by the fact that understanding emotions is always a challenge for him. I never want him to think that I love him less because he couldn't do these things, or that for some reason I arbitrarily decided he shouldn't.

    The two youngest don't really notice such things as yet, but I know it is coming up the pipeline.

  3. I don't know that this would apply to your situation at ALL...but our parents' litany was constantly "....well, life's not fair." We HATED that growing up, but now all three of us are intensely grateful our parents taught us that valuable lesson.

    Life is NOT fair. If life was fair, young mothers would not die of cancer. There would be no need for foster homes, because every child would have two loving parents. No one would be hungry, or cold, or mentally ill.

    My sister-in-law is the middle of three girls. Her parents bent over backwards, and continue to do so to this day, to make things "fair" between the three of them. Rather than being happy for each other, or feeling secure in the knowledge that their parents have always tried to be fair, all three women (adults now, all three with children of their own) spend more time evaluating the gifts the other two got, instead of each enjoying her own gifts, and being happy for the others. The CONSTANT comparisons and backstabbing and complaining "That's not FAIR!" is absolutely astonishing to watch.

    I think teaching children that things are fair is a disservice to them. I admire the fact that you have taught Brian and Andrew that sometimes, the foster boys need something more than they might need. I also think you are in a much more complex situation with the "fairness" stuff, dealing with foster vs. bio, moved-out vs. still-in-the-house, etc.

    It's easy to say "well, they all should understand that each of them have different need, and things change, and what was not possible for one boy may be possible for another..." but it's not quite so easy for everyone involved to understand and accept that.

    What if the situation was reversed, and you HAD adopted Carl, David and Evan...but now, because Gary already has a father, only Yondalla could adopt him, or apply for guardianship. Would that mean you should retroactively un-adopt the first three, because it's not fair you can't fully adopt Gary (even if he did not wish to be adopted)?

    What a thorny question! I will be very interested to read other comments.

  4. I am with you. I try not to be "fair" but to meet their needs, but the whole fair thing weighs on my mind.


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