“This! You guys want to know why you never get the pink plate anymore? This is why you never get the pink plate!”
Emilia and Grace stopped bickering and stared at me. It was one of those moments where I knew I was just talking to myself, handing my frustration over to the universe and frightening and confusing everyone in the process.
This particular evening, our two older girls were arguing over who would get to sit on my lap while we read. Their disagreement began as a heated discussion but quickly devolved into manic ranting about who sat in my lap last night, three nights ago and one year ago last week. I’m half surprised they didn’t break out the yarn and newspaper clippings and diagram their lap-sitting theories on their bedroom wall.
It was intense and slightly unhinged.
Lately, the issue of fairness has taken up space as a major theme in our lives. It permeates everything and rears its head everywhere. Gifts. Portion sizes. Turns. Who goes first. Who goes last. Sometimes it’s logical, and other times the need to compete trumps decency and logic.
Case in point: a recent throw down over who got to put a lint-covered fruit snack in the garbage.
There’s probably some sort of developmental and anthropological explanation for the recent fairness boom. Emilia is trying to assert herself as the oldest, coolest, wisest, most privileged and deserving child among us, and Grace is grappling to find her place as the middle kid. Now she’s old enough to understand how the world works. Now she won’t settle for second best.
Sometimes Matt and I are prepared to tackle these arguments head on, and even reflect on some of our parenting decisions. When Grace cried “not fair” over Emilia’s new back-to-school dress, we talked about how Emilia is outgrowing her clothes — clothes Gracie has long-admired and will soon inherit. And we realized that Grace was feeling more left out than she’d let on, so we got her a back-to-school dress too.
Sometimes I’m able to head off the fairness fights at the pass.
Oftentimes, we stay out of it, and they sort it out on their own.
But other times, the constant squabbling over fairness feels totally exhausting and paralyzing. I find myself orchestrating our daily lives to avoid conflict.
Case in point: the pink plate.
We have a standard-issue set of kids’ Ikea plates, which come in a variety of colors. One of the plates is pink. The others are yellow (meh), green (gross), orange (barf) and blue (why is blue even a color?).
For weeks, I listened to the girls debate over who deserved the pink plate as a backdrop for their breakfasts, lunches and dinners. I scolded them for arguing. I told them that a pink plate will not make their lukewarm chicken nuggets taste better (spoiler: nothing will). I tried my best to stick to the rigid "Pink Plate Alternating Schedule for Keeping the Peace."
And then I simply took the pink plate out of circulation. Now it sits, dusty and alone at the bottom of the plate pile. The other day, I gave it to Phoebe and no one batted an eye.
I don’t have a solution to propose. This fairness stuff stinks, and I’d like to think it’s just a stage. But it’s also sibling nature. And human nature.
You can try to keep things as even and fair as possible, while stopping short of driving yourself completely insane. You can use it as a teachable moment because, as millions of wise people once said, sometimes life isn’t fair. You can walk away and let them duke it out.
Or you can go easy on yourself. The world will keep spinning. It will just be missing one pink plate to spin along with it.
Catherine Kraemer writes twice a month for Momaha.com. She and her husband, Matt, are the parents of three young girls – Emilia, 5, Grace, 3 and newborn Phoebe. Originally from St. Louis, Catherine lives in Omaha and works at a local advertising agency.