Giving Kids What They Need Is More Important Than Treating Them Equally

by Katie Cloyd
Originally Published: 
Katie Cloyd/Facebook

When I had one child, I never really wondered if I was an attentive, fantastic mom. I spent every day with my only son, and he was my little sidekick. We woke up at the same time, and spent our entire day in sync. I rocked him to sleep every night, totally certain that I had met every one of his needs. He was laid back, gentle and smart. I figured I’d take all the credit for those things because of my top-notch momming skills.

When I got pregnant again, I envisioned having the same exact relationship with my second child. I knew how to meet my first kid’s needs, so I figured I would follow the same formula for the new baby, making sure everything was even-steven. I felt pretty sure that I was going to slay the mom-of-two gig by doing what I had always done as a mom of one, but for both of them.

It took me only a few months of parenting two kids before I realized that it just didn’t work like that. My second son is just as smart and amazing as his brother, but so many things about them have been completely unique since minute one. Their needs were wildly different, even as tiny infants.

My first big lesson as a mom of two was swift and clear: Striving for equal relationships with my kids is not necessary, it stresses me out, and it really doesn’t serve anyone.

Don’t get me wrong. My husband and I understand that at some ages, many kids are very connected to the idea of “fairness,” so we try to keep the little things equal when we can. Everyone gets unlimited snuggles and kisses. Everyone gets about the same number of gifts under the Christmas tree. Each kid gets to choose the restaurant on their birthday. Everyone will get the same amount from the tooth fairy. My kids take turns, and they share their toys. We make them split the last cookie. We aren’t monsters over here drilling the tough reality that life isn’t fair into our kids from birth.

But we don’t focus on equality or “fairness” when we make our parenting decisions. Many things about the way we parent each child aren’t completely equal. Each kid requires different amounts of time, energy, money, discipline and structure to thrive.

We will never be able to perfectly balance the scales, and that’s fine with me.

Before I was a mom, I was so sure I knew what kids needed and desired. I read the books, and the experts seemed so certain. It was as if every child was the same. You could follow a formula to ensure their happiness and success. While that would be SO much easier, I think all parents eventually learn that it just isn’t true. Nothing about raising a child is that easy.

For example, I once believed that children “need” a certain amount of dedicated one-on-one time with each parent to feel loved and special. We tried that, but my oldest child has clearly demonstrated his preference for family time. We offer him the chance to do “big boy” activities without his little brother. He almost always says, “No, thank you!” He wants us all together. My oldest son wants to include everyone. That is what makes him feel connected and secure.

If I focused on making our individual time with each of our children “equal,” I would only be meeting one child’s needs.

My younger son definitely does need that alone time. He seeks out opportunities to be with just one of us at a time. A quick run with just dad to get a bagel on a Sunday morning recharges his batteries for the whole day.

If I focused on making our individual time with each of our children “equal,” I would only be meeting one child’s needs. Instead, I focus on making sure each child feels connected and seen, regardless of how that happens for them. Making everything equal isn’t the only way to treat them fairly — and trying puts undue pressure on parents.

I’ve given up on keeping score.

There are also long-term benefits to abandoning the idea of all things being equal. Creating an environment of complete and utter equality doesn’t serve our children in the long run. That’s not a realistic expectation for the world they live in.

If I focused on making our individual time with each of our children “equal,” I would only be meeting one child’s needs.

When kids are used to seeing everyone get what they need instead of watching everyone get the exact same thing, it makes it easier to emphasize the importance of equity (dividing resources so that everyone is equipped to succeed according to their needs) over equality (dividing resources in even pieces whether it helps everyone succeed or not.) When someone tells one of my children that something isn’t equitable, I never, ever want my kids to argue with them because they don’t understand how something can be equal and still unfair.

Rigid equality often leaves someone lagging behind, and that’s the last thing I want my kids to hold dear.

I want my kids to learn how to advocate for themselves in educational, career and social spaces. It’s important for them to understand that they deserve decent treatment. I tell them routinely that it’s a sign of strength to be able ask for help and let people know what you need.

But I really, really don’t want to create adults who have never had to face the fact that something can be fair without being equal. I’m railing against every shred of entitlement my kids might exhibit. As middle-class, white males in America, they will rarely encounter a situation where they are not benefiting from some kind of privilege. In our home, they will see that equality means everyone’s needs are met, even if we all need different tools to make it happen.

Raising two kids isn’t like raising one kid twice. It’s more like working two completely unconnected full-time jobs whose scopes sometimes overlap. My expectations for my kids are based on what each child’s best reasonable efforts can realistically yield. Each of my kids gets their own set of standards based on who they are.

In the long run, it’s better for everyone this way.

Making things equal doesn’t always ensure everyone gets what they need.

Ensuring that everyone gets what they need is what makes things feel equal and balanced.

Rigid equality often leaves someone lagging behind.

Parents, as long as we do our best to equip our kids according to what works for them as individuals, we are doing right by every single one of them. Are you running yourself ragged to make sure every one of your kids has a totally equal relationship with you and gets the exact same amount of everything? I hope you’ll take a step back and give yourself a little grace. Chances are, if you are worried about getting it all right, you’re already killin’ it.

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