Fairness as a Parent

By Li Qiu-yue, Tzu Chi Teachers Association
Translated by Wu Hsiao-ting
Graphic by Zhong Ting-jia

While sibling rivalry might be common, don’t add to it by being an unfair parent.

Sometimes kids complain about the unfairness of their parents. They do their best to behave themselves and study hard in school only to find that their troublemaker siblings receive more attention from their parents. So much of a parent’s attention can be drawn towards the child that misbehaves that they inadvertently turn a blind eye to the well-behaved child who always does the right thing. In extreme cases, such parental partiality might lead to serious sibling conflicts and drive family members apart. How can this be avoided?

To parents:

Everyone, no matter their age, wants to be valued and appreciated. This is true even if you have children who are especially good, who always do what they should, and about whom you never need to worry. If this is the case, you should still set aside time to be with them and give them your attention. Hug them often and praise them where praise is due. They likely will do even better when assured of your love, instead of having to constantly strive for your attention. They won’t have the need to act badly to get your attention, thinking “the more Dad or Mom scolds me, the more they must love me.” Such thinking can lead them astray, making them in the end really go bad and give up on themselves.

The other way around is also true. I have a good friend who has two children. The older one did very well academically and now has a good job. The younger one has fared less well, but is hard-working and driven too. Their grandparents favor the more outstanding, older child, showering him with love, but my friend and her husband took care to remedy this. They often praise the younger one in front of their relatives and friends, saying that he is a very thoughtful child, is always striving to do better, and is great at interacting with people and dealing with situations. The couple’s thoughtfulness helps their younger son feel that his home is full of love and enhances his sense of belonging. He is now working and lives out of town, but often calls his parents to chat with them. He shares everything, big and small, with them. He’s become a good young man, and knows what he wants to do in life. He is advancing confidently towards his goals. He also gets along great with his older brother.

I really admire these parents. They try to balance the unfairness they detected and make sure that no child in their family feels less loved or unappreciated. They deserve a lot of credit that both of their children grew to be fine young men and, instead of being on bad terms, are close with each other.

To kids:

I know that sometimes you think: “Dad and Mom will be happy if I share more work, study harder, and do better in everything. The atmosphere in our family will improve, and they will love me more.”

Sadly, things don’t always go as you expect. Instead, you see your troublemaking brother get the best cell phone, clothes, or shoes, and your parents take for granted all your efforts to be a good kid. They are oblivious to the good things you do. You begin to wonder: “What’s the point of it all? Should I continue to try to be good?” You long for assurances that your parents do love you and care for you; you crave their affirmation and praise.

Kids, please know first of all that every effort you make today to improve yourself will one day come to benefit yourself. So, be sure you live every day the best you can instead of trying to act badly in order to get your parents’ attention or doing things with an eye to win their approval.

Secondly, follow the direction you want to go in life. You can only achieve true happiness in this life by listening to your inner voice and being kind to yourself. Don’t judge others or get caught up in negative emotions because you feel you are being treated unfairly. Doing so you will only harm yourself and negatively impact your relationships with your family or others. Stay positive as much as you can. Learn to take good care of your heart and mind. You will reap the fruits of this.

Home as a haven

A home should be a warm, inviting place where a child feels secure and safe. Just like a harbor is a refuge to a boat in a storm, so should a home be a haven to every weary soul in troubled times. But if a parent is partial to any of their children, a home might become a minefield, where an explosion can wreck the relationships among family members. So parents, please do your best to be fair to your children, and not in a superficial way. Show and express sincere love and care. Siblings tend to compare themselves with each other, which can easily lead to jealousy or conflicts. While this might be normal, take care not to add fuel to the fire by favoring one child over the other. Foster love and care among your children by being a fair-minded, thoughtful parent and teaching them to share and take care of one another.

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