Parents who are fair versus Parents that care

One aspect of my upbringing aside from the barrage of “Do it because I said so” or “Do it or else I’ll start punching [you]” authoritarian style discipline was the concept of fairness. For example, when my brother and I were little, my father would read to us before we went to bed. We alternated nights choosing the story we wanted to hear. If by chance one of us chose two nights in a row, the other would get the opportunity to have two book choices to balance out the equation. This was deemed a “fair” system and for the most part it worked.

Now that I am in my thirties and can better reflect on my upbringing in comparison to my peers, I’ve ultimately come to the conclusion that the “fair” decision isn’t always the “loving” decision. I’ll briefly justify this opinion with the description of two childhood friends below (names changed for privacy).

1. Kent

Kent was a smart guy, but sometimes he would cheat on tests in high school. He believed there were two types of classes: “blow off” or unimportant classes that didn’t deserve his time; and “serious” classes that warranted study and satisfactory completion of all assignments. Sometimes, Kent even cheated in the serious classes. In Calculus I remember him programming equations into his personal graphing calculator that would secretly aid him on tests. At the time I thought this was very dishonorable.

Although Kent finished high school ranked 9th in a class of 99 students, he never received any sort of community recognition in the form of awards or compliments from the school staff because everyone knew he liked to cheat. Looking back at Kent I am a bit cynical. He seemed to have it right: don’t waste your time on things that won’t be of any significance later on.

Kent went to a state school but was expelled from campus after an arrest for possession of narcotics “with intent to sell”. He pleaded no contest (The Alford Doctrine) and that essentially ended his college experience just a couple months into his sophomore year. He never returned to formal schooling.

Now, had I made this mistake, my parents would have kicked me to the curb and kept all my college money for my brothers. My parents would not only be embarrassed to have their son guilty of drug possession, they would have been mad at me and rightly so. I would have been kicked out of the house and left to find my way in the real world on my own. Most people would say this sort of punishment would be the “fair” thing to do.

Kent’s parents thought otherwise. While they were very angry with Kent and upset that their oldest child was no longer in college, they looked beyond the immediate situation and thought of the future. Instead of kicking him to the curb, they offered him an opportunity: sell items from the family business on eBay and make a share of any profits earned.

Years later, Kent has taken a part time job of reselling products on eBay under his family’s name to a large, mutli-million dollar business. He makes six figures a year, owns a house on the beach, and drives a $50,000 boat across the bay on the weekends. Barring the apocalypse, he’s set for life as president and founder of his own business.

In his case, his parents looked past youthful mistakes and gave him an opportunity when most other parents, like mine, would hand out a punishment.

Kent’s parents are “Parents that care“.

2. Caleb

Caleb and I were good friends through middle school. During our time together I had the pleasure of meeting his parents who were very loving people. He was an only child raised in a nurturing and validating environment; the complete opposite of my upbringing. These differences eventually caught up to me and we fell apart mostly because I was envious of him. Caleb’s parents didn’t send him to public school with me. Instead, they wanted the very best for their child and put him through a college preparatory high school on their own dime.

Caleb wasn’t like Kent in the least. He was a really good person who went through all the typical rites of passage into adulthood that everyone else experienced. To be clear he was in no way spoiled by his parents: they made sure to instill a sense of decency in him that they closely monitored at all times, immediately available to help him when times became hard. In short, they believed in their son; adored him; and took on his dreams as their own to fulfill.

Caleb matriculated into one of the USA’s top schools, graduating with a degree in Environmental science. At the time there weren’t many paying jobs for this line of work, so Caleb had to settle for internships at major environmental organizations as a means to gain experience before getting plugged into a full time job.

My parents – particularly my father – always said, unequivocally “After college, you’re on your own. Period”. That meant no support for graduate school, no help with student loans, car payments, housing, or any other basic need. They only stepped in during emergency situations. For example, when I gambled away $2,000 at the local casino and had a big credit card debt to pay, my Mom (NOT my father) stepped in and loaned me the money and had me repay her later on PLUS interest.

Now, most people would agree: it’s fair to expect a loan to be repaid with interest, even a loan to your own child.

But with Caleb – whose parents saw past “fairness” and looked towards the future – charging their son interest on a financial loan would never cross their minds.

In fact, they put Caleb through graduate school at a top tier university, helped him with rent payments when he settled in expensive suburban Boston, helped him with gas money for his commute to his non-paying internships, and made themselves constantly accessible to him.

Some might say this is “coddling” a child, but I don’t see it that way at all. In fact, I can see the greater purpose of what they did and continue to do. Unlike my parents, who charge their degenerate gambler son interest on a loan, Caleb’s parents saw his foray into environmental science as a means to make the world a better place. They believed in their son’s dream of contributing to a higher purpose, and saw fit to support this dream in any way possible, financial or otherwise.

Caleb’s parents are “Parents that care“.

To conclude, my point is plain and simple: doing the “fair” thing isn’t always the “loving” thing. Some might argue that allowing a child like Kent to take on part of the family business after a drug related arrest is rather foolish and overly understanding. In reality, though, it WAS the right thing to do: Kent made himself and them millionaires, all because they saw past the need to punish and believed Kent was meant to do greater things.

Likewise, Caleb’s parents aren’t concerned with busting their child’s balls every time he hits a road block or using obstacles as instructive moments to be fair minded and tough. To the contrary, they make loving decisions that will ultimately bear fruit long after they leave this Earth. They don’t see their child as an 18 year project that requires tough love and a switch. They see their child as their legacy – a person that will take their love and support and do great things.

Being fair isn’t always right. Do the loving thing instead.