Written by Doctor G

“That is not FAIR!” Fair vs Equal for Parents

My partner and I are merging two families. My kids are 2 years apart, my son is older. He has two daughters, a little younger but the same split. I give my kids different responsibilities and privileges. He makes a point of being completely equal with his girls. This has led to some conflict. Do you think it’s OK to differentiate between children who are so close together in age?

Anonymous, in Washington, DC

Put simply, I do.

Of course kids think that fair means equal.  Adults, however, know that fair and equal are not the same things at all.  Your partner may have great reasons to treat his daughters equally all the time, and if it works for them that is perfect.

In most families, however, treating kids of different ages as equals leads to as much discontent as differentiating. And, differentiating prepares them better for real life.

It is tougher to figure out what each child is ready to do.

Looking at each of your kids and deciding, based on development, personality, temperament and behavior what is appropriate? Hard work! Really valuable, though.

It’s even harder to explain to kids who are arguing, “Why does he get to ___________?!” Our job as parents is to help each child master the next task, earn the next privilege, and improve the skills they lack to be able to thrive as adults. Treating them exactly the same makes the parent’s life easier, but doesn’t always give the children what they need.

As you merge your families, you will have to find a solution to the times when you each do things differently. Since your kids see a difference in who they “belong to,” you have the advantage of not needing to be on exactly the same page.

Then you have to decide how you’re going to explain it to the kids. Take heart, they’d argue with you no matter which way you go. So do what parents always have to: decide what’s best and live with the fall out!


Do you have kids close in age? How do you handle fair vs equal?

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