One of my favorite things about my kids–and I truly think mine are better about this than most–is their intuitive understanding of what each needs, and their recognition that Mommy’s job is to try to do that, instead of making sure that everyone gets exactly the same.
This does not apply to Sprite or ice cream, it must be said.
But, when it comes to the most precious commodity in our house, Mommy’s time, they are very gracious about how a sibling might need more, or different, attention from Mommy at a particular time.
Because ‘equal’ doesn’t always have to mean the same.
And, sometimes, the same wouldn’t be equal at all.
That means that no one really bats an eye when Ben gets to go to Wendy’s with just Mom a couple of times a month. They know that my sensitive and quieter youngest son needs that 1:1 time, and that that is a comforting place for him to connect with me.
The twins have long understood that Sam will get to go places and do things they don’t, not just because he’s older, but because he is interested in things that they just are not. And that Evie needs extra help, as the youngest, and also extra forgiveness, as she learns.
If only our public policy structures got this as well.
I think about my kids every time I hear someone complaining about how people get XYZ public benefit. I want to say, ‘but you don’t really want that, do you? I mean, you don’t want to be in their shoes, so that you could get it. Do you?’
My kids will be ineligible for means-tested financial aid because we make too much money.
And the evidence overwhelmingly suggests that they will be at a distinct advantage precisely because they come to post-secondary education equipped with these resources.
There are other examples–Affirmative Action, certainly, but also provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and other accommodations for those with disabilities.
When we reduce ‘equality’ to a base understanding of sheer numerical or even face-valid ‘identicality’, we miss the far more important question about whether a given policy or program is delivering to each an equal measure of opportunity, an equal chance at getting his/her needs met.
What my kids are essentially saying, with actions that speak much more clearly than I can here, is this: Why would I begrudge someone else the assistance they need, just because I don’t get it, even if I wouldn’t wish to need it, if I am getting what I need?
I know it sounds simplistic, but I can’t help but think that, if we weren’t so concerned with what others are getting, and with these false metrics of what ‘equal’ should look like, we would have a better chance at building a policy system that can deliver what we each need.
Even if that doesn’t seem ‘equal’.
Ask my kids.