Equal or fair?

Have you ever wondered how to make your children feel special without being accused of unequal treatment? Is it possible that 'equal' ' treatment is often unfair?

Besides her part-time position as a medical secretary for a health clinic, Barbara Huff serves with her husband as the national pastoral couple for Seventh-day Adventist Marriage Encounter. Together they also present family finance seminars for church groups. Mrs. Huff writes from Mound, Minnesota.

When you look at the responsibilities that you as a mother face, do you ever feel a little weak-kneed and confused? Even though you have read volumes that contain beautiful and helpful philosophies about raising children, you may be inclined to think, This is probably good for "normal" kids, but my kids are different. They are PK's--Preacher's Kids.

Although pastors' children do have some special needs and problems, so do many other children. Our kids aren't really so different. As a mother of two grown and healthy PK's, let me share with you four practical policies for reducing tensions in the home.

1. Don't try to treat all your children exactly equally--especially when it comes to material gifts, rewards, and possessions. Endeavoring to meet needs and showing love and fairness is what really counts.

Engraved in my memory is the time in my adolescence that my mother, for no special occasion, bought my married sister a sweater. I remember asking, "Why didn't you buy me one too?" She looked at me patiently and then said frankly, "You didn't need one." That simple incident seemed to settle in my mind that all things are not rewarded equally, but parents (and God, I learned later) would supply my needs.

When parents try to keep a scorecard of exactly what was given to whom and how much was spent on each person, there is bound to be dissatisfaction. The more we try to be exactly equal and draw attention to it, the more likely we are to create rivalry between children. And parents who keep scorecards too often end up sitting in their rocking chairs counting the number of phone calls, letters, and visits that each grown child pays them, then using these scores to pit one child against the other. Such parents grow old, miserable and alone.

The sooner children and parents learn that having things equal is not necessarily fair, the better off they will be. If one of your toddlers fell into a mud puddle, would you have to give all the children a bath just to be treating them equally? Many times it's not fair to be equal!

Of course, terrible inequities do exist in families where one child is favored above the others. But that is not what I'm referring to. I'm thinking rather of the simple little things that may seem like inequalities when they are really based only on differing needs.

A family with grown children was planning to spend a holiday together. The children were coming from different areas, all some distance from home. Three of the children had good jobs and could afford to fly, but the fourth one could afford only a bus ticket. Coming by bus would considerably cut the time spent at home. The father was concerned about his child's extremely long bus ride but thought that he could not help with the air fare, for then he would "have" to help all the children, and he couldn't afford that. Had no one been keeping score and if there had been a helping attitude in the family, it's likely that everyone would have chipped in to help, and they would have had a happier celebration together.

2. Don't forget that each child has special needs and special moments that need to be honored.

I recall the time a family with two children came to visit, and coincidentally it was the little girl's tenth birthday. I was delighted for an excuse to celebrate, and when we took the family to browse in one of our favorite shopping areas I gave Karen some money to spend as a birthday present. It was obvious, however, that little brother was used to receiving a gift on his sister's birthday. It wasn't exactly a tantrum that he threw, but it was obvious that I was the villain, so to rescue our outing from a disaster I reluctantly gave him some money too.

At bedtime the same day it was demonstrated again that Karen wasn't allowed any privacy or any time to be treated special. She reveled in the idea of sleeping on our daughter's water bed. She was all cozy and grown-up and snuggled into bed with a book when little brother began crying. He was lonesome. Karen had to give up the specialness of her grown-up moment to go sleep with her little brother. No one seemed to recognize her needs or her specialness at the moment. Had she been shown how special she was, little brother would soon have learned that his day would come and his needs would be met too. As it was, one could sense the bitter disappointment in Karen and the victory in little brother. He seemed to be saying by his nonverbals, I won that one too.

Besides developing special moments, each child, from preschool on, needs to realize that he has a special place in the world. Build on the gifts that are obvious and continually explore with your children new ideas and new possibilities for their lives. Let each child know that he is special--and that you know he will succeed in whatever he does.

3. Honesty only, always.

By your example promote honesty--always. Probably one way deceit is practiced and thus taught is by Mother telling the children, "Don't tell Daddy I bought this--he would get mad." Then pretty soon, Mother or Dad is telling one child not to tell the other children about a gift purchased or a favor shown. We're not talking here about fun secrets and family surprises. This is the old scorecard syndrome again. The problem is, eventually it's hard to keep track of who told what to whom, and finally no one trusts anyone.

Several years ago Larry, the oldest son in a family, married and went away to college. Money was scarce, and in a letter Larry wrote home he mentioned that when the next payday came he was going to buy some new shoes. It was not mentioned as a request, just as a matter-of-fact statement. The loving mother, who was also pressed for money, wanted to respond to Larry's needs, so she immediately went out, bought a pair of shoes, and sent them to her son. In a letter explaining that the package was coming, however, she made a request that caused much pain to Larry and his wife. She told them not to mention the shoes in a letter, for the rest of the family didn't know she had bought them. She wrote, "Put an X on the bottom of the letter so I will know that you got them."

Larry was unable to write and thank his mother for her love gift for fear of breaking confidence. His wife was puzzled and found it difficult to trust the family if sacrifices and gifts had to be concealed in a deceitful way.

The policy of being open and up front and of being kind and tactful when sensitive issues have to be addressed (instead of ignoring them) is an important way to keep harmony in the family.

4. Encourage your children to identify and talk about their feelings and the way they should respond to those feelings.

My six-foot-six athletic son is free to talk (to me anyway!) about how he is afraid of mice and is squeamish about tomato worms. He also hugs his dad and tells him that he loves him. Because my daughter can identify and express her sad and sorrowful feelings, she can cry with the mother of the stillborn infant. She can also talk positively about career plans--what her strengths and weaknesses are.

Several years ago when I was working as a secretary in a hospital laboratory, a man brought in his 4-year-old son for some blood tests. Daddy was probably about six feet tall, but he seemed even taller, for he was muscular and broad-shouldered.

He was wearing a clean flannel shirt and fresh blue jeans. His boots were sturdy, and he wore a beard. He very well could have been a lumber jack.

The little son had obvious anxieties about the situation and asked his daddy, "Will it hurt?"

"Yes," his father said gently, "it will hurt for a minute."

The man put the child on his lap, and the technician cheerfully explained the procedure to the little fellow. Then as quick as a blink, it was all over with.

"Daddy," the boy said tearfully, "I had an owie."

"Yes," the father answered, "I know you had an owie."

"Daddy, I cried."

"That's OK that you cried when you had an owie," the father said as he buttoned the boy's sleeve and helped him with his coat.

The father straightened up to his full height, and now he seemed even taller to me. The young son looked fondly up at his dad, took his hand, and walked proudly out of the lab and into the world. His world, and your children's world, is a world where things are never exactly equal. But it is also a world filled with concerned and honest parents who care about the needs and feelings of their children. This world is full of important and special children--little lambs--and their shepherdesses are promised wisdom in raising them. "If any of you lack wisdom, . . . ask . . . and it shall be given him" (James 1:5).

Yes, it is an awesome task to raise preacher's kids, but it can also be a fantastic amount of fun!

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Besides her part-time position as a medical secretary for a health clinic, Barbara Huff serves with her husband as the national pastoral couple for Seventh-day Adventist Marriage Encounter. Together they also present family finance seminars for church groups. Mrs. Huff writes from Mound, Minnesota.

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