I have four children, a girl and three boys, since before they were born I’ve heard stories about the joys and sorrows of parenting. More experienced parents have given all kinds of encouraging advice.
“Just wait till you get to the terrible two’s! It’ll age you 10 years!” one says.
Another shakes her head, “Two-year-olds have nothing on junior high kids. Once they become teenagers you’ll understand why some animals eat their young!”
A dad speaks up, “It’s not junior high. It’s dating. Text. Tweet. Instagram. Facebook. Snapchat. Nothing makes me feel more helpless as a dad than knowing my daughter can have a crush only to be crushed 140 characters at time.”
Parenting certainly has its difficulties. But as a parent, I feel blessed. Somehow we avoided the terrible two’s. With at least one child we survived the drama of junior high. And the dating is only just now beginning – So far, so good. Each stage we enter brings new experiences, exciting possibilities, and interesting challenges.
Recently my 11-year-old asked why his older sister gets to stay up as late as she wants. More specifically, he wanted to know why he had to go to bed and she didn’t. My answer was simple. It’s something I’ve said to my kids for years.
“Son, you have to understand. I have four children. I only have enough love for one child a week. And it’s not your week!”
He rolled his eyes because he’s heard me say it before. It’s a lame joke, I know. But I’ve said it so often now that when I tell one of my kids, “no,” another will look at them, laugh, and say, “It’s not your week!”
After the joke I explained to him, “Your sister’s taken responsibility for certain things. I can’t remember the last time I had to tell her to go to bed. Get up. Take a shower. Brush her teeth. Do her homework. Fix her breakfast. Get her lunch ready. Grab her coat or tie her shoes. These are things we have to remind you about every day, sometimes several times a day. With responsibility comes freedom. When you take responsibility for yourself it’s easy for me to give you the freedom you want.”
The message seems to have hit home. He’s not there yet, but it’s been fun to watch. I can seem him trying to take on new responsibilities. He even seems excited about it.
In this situation, and a thousand others, it would be easy for someone to cry, “It’s not fair!” But how do you compare what’s fair for a junior high girl and an elementary age boy? You really can’t. And if you can’t, then fairness can’t be the goal.
Instead of being fair – be attentive.
To be honest, it’s harder to be attentive than to be fair. To be attentive you must be engaged in the lives of others. Being attentive requires personal interaction. It demands time, attention, and engagement.
Fairness creates blanket rules that restrict the responsible in order to punish the guilty. Attentiveness recognizes the unique strengths and needs of the individuals around you.
Being fair can be overwhelming. There are starving people in our world. That’s not fair. As an individual, that’s a problem I’ll never solve. But I can be aware of the need around me. With attentiveness, I can concentrate on one person to solve the one problem right in front of me. I can do for one what I wish I could for everyone; One person at a time – One meal a time.
We live in a world full of distraction. We face real and significant challenges. On the surface, these challenges have a similar source and can be solved with similar solutions. But every individual is unique. Every experience is different. Every problem is personal. Providing for others what’s fair only gives them a shadow of what’s really needed.
Today, be attentive to the people around you. Be present in the moments you have together. Focus on the task at hand. Do for one what you wish you could for everyone.