Tag Archives: what parents tell children about fairness

Life isn’t fair (apparently)

A few weeks ago I was dealing with a problem that I discussed with a couple of people. In the course of conversation, one of these people told me what she’d said to her children when they were growing up:

“Life isn’t fair. Get over it.”

I can see where on face that might seem a bit hard by today’s standards. I don’t mean to suggest she said it for no reason or to be mean; I gathered it was in response to something her kids said, maybe about a perceived injustice in or outside the home. I can further tell you, so far as I know, she launched all of her children, who are now well into adulthood, successfully into the world. I think she was equipping them. Maybe they’d say differently if they could weigh in on the conversation, I don’t know.

The phrase has stuck in my mind. I even feel had I heard something like that as a child, I might have been better for it. I heard LOTS of uncharitable and hard statements but none that truly seemed like a life lesson, which this does. This statement says a lot, though. It’s saying indirectly that life’s unfairness isn’t personal. Further, it’s the active part of the statement that means something extra: Get over it. That implies you – the child – can, that you have power in the situation and aren’t haplessly being knocked about without recourse. That’s how it sounds to me.

I finally figured out today what has been nagging at me about this. I learned very early that things weren’t fair in my family (and not just things that, as an adult, I can write off to the limited perspective of a child). What I couldn’t understand was why I didn’t then grasp and accept that life out in the larger world isn’t fair. Why do I keep railing over injustices? Stewing over mistreatment? Getting upset about the behavior of thoughtless, selfish, or cruel people? What I think now is that the lesson was limited to the house I grew up in; it didn’t translate. It wasn’t a life lesson. I didn’t get life lessons. I learned house lessons. Family lessons. They were environment-specific which is how I took them, not extrapolating to life in general.

Maybe I hoped the larger world would be different, or should have been. Maybe I was still optimistic. I don’t think that’s entirely a terrible idea, believing in fairness. I don’t want to walk around thinking that most people or institutions will do the shitty thing, the unfair thing, given half a chance, and yet, continuing to be surprised or taken aback when something is lousy or unfair is not self-serving. It’s ME that it bothers, not the jackass(es) perpetuating the unfairness. It seems like a very fine balance to achieve and live with on an ongoing basis. I suppose a phrase like “Assume the best, prepare for the worst” might be apropos. Nobody taught me that either, but it feels like high time I teach myself. Anyway, I’m tempted to write the first phrase, “Life isn’t fair. Get over it” and put it up on the wall where I will see it and remember.