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Aug 28 2014

Is Your Toddler Obsessed with What’s Fair? So Was Moses

By at 8:34 am

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This post is part of our Torah commentary series. This Shabbat we read Parashat Shoftim. To read a summary of the portion and learn more, click here.

My kids, like yours, most likely, are obsessed with what’s fair. Sure, this is a classic toddler hang-up: Nothing is fair, but everything is fair game for a tantrum. And when you have twins, the fairness stakes rise exponentially. Beware the tiny fairness police.

The thing is, it’s very, very hard to predict what will elicit an “its not fair” from the peanut gallery. My husband and I try to anticipate–purchasing dual copies of the most coveted items, spending one-on-one time with each child as often as humanly possible, being generally far more patient and attentive than either of us have the bandwidth to be, and yet, we’re repeatedly surprised by how our kids can find unfairness in the most unlikely places.

To whit: one of my children learned to use the potty before the other. Hooray, one down, one to go (so to speak)… right? Wrong. Once the other kid came around, about a month later, the first, earlier-potty trained daughter found the whole thing terribly unfair. In fact, each time the late blooming potty trainee would go to the bathroom, the already-potty trained twin would fold her arms, exclaim, “its not fair” in a very whiny way, and fall to the ground in a dramatic show of distress. Who knew that watching her sister learn to potty train wouldn’t be fair?

Another example: just the other morning, one of my children stubbed her toe, hard, against a kitchen chair. I kneeled down to inspect the toe, and then scooped her up into my arms and held her while I poured coffee. Not a moment later, in marches the other twin who takes one look at the injured bird on my hip, and exclaims, “It’s not fair!”

I could go on with examples of how rabidly unfair the conditions are in my household, but I won’t bore you, because you know all of these scenarios. Whether you have twins or not, if you have more than one child, you have experienced all of this.

“Justice, justice you shall pursue, without corruption or favoritism,” exclaims Moses in Shoftim, this week’s Torah portion. Here, before he dies, Moses is commanding the Israelites to appoint judges who will decide on the laws of the land. There are rules for kings, rules about manslaughter, rules of war, rules about setting up “cities of refuge,” and prohibitions against idolatry and sorcery, to name a few.

Just as those appointed judges have a tremendous amount of responsibility on their plate, so do we, as parents. But here’s the thing. No one appointed us. We appointed ourselves. Who’s to say that we’re best suited? That we’re most fair? That we’re most fit?

What’s more, those examples I cited above aren’t really about fairness at all. They’re about one child needing something–an extra hug, even more attention and validation. Sometimes–often–I want to stomp my feet and cry “it’s not fair,” too.

I admit to often feeling overwhelmed by the cries of injustice under my own roof, let alone the grave and real injustices outside my door and in our world. In my house, I’ve found myself often resorting to a hands-off approach, and urging my kids to “work it out.” In fact, an academic and toddler expert I chatted with recently suggested that especially with twins, but really, with all siblings, the best thing to do is “get out of the way.”

So when my two kids come to blows over a purple marker, assuming no one is really getting hurt, more often than not, I’ll call out, “work it out, guys.”

Here’s the crazy thing. Sometimes, they do! And when they work it out on their own, it’s miraculous and feels so much better than when I intervene and manage from above. Sometimes, in a magical mist, I’ll hear one of them say, “Maya, can I have a turn with the marker and then I’ll give it back to you?” I’ll hold my breath until I hear, “Okay, Avs, here you go.”

Of course, there are plenty of times when this doesn’t happen, and I step in and attempt to adjudicate based on whatever information I can gather from the blubbering mass of toddlers. When I do, someone is almost always unhappy with the result. But this is a good lesson too, isn’t it? Life really isn’t fair. The lesson is in trying to deal with the injustice in a productive way (not flinging oatmeal across the room, not pinching, taking deep breaths….)

When they get a little bit older, we’ll talk more about what’s truly unfair–poverty, oppression, racism, and other local and global injustices. I won’t be able to make them care about these causes, but I can hope that their passion for justice in our house might translate to passion for action beyond our walls.

To read the previous posts in our Torah MOMentary series, click here.

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