Fair Doesn't Mean Equal

The following post is from Jennifer Burke, a lifelong educator:

source: JustyCinMD

If I wasn’t there when they were born, I might question whether our sons were truly brothers. 

I think most moms feel this way – their kids couldn’t be more different, even if they had “ordered them” as opposites.

When Adam was little, I understood why the term “Terrible Twos” was invented.  He was usually in “challenge mode.”  When Stephen was two, the sweetness practically radiated around him.  He smiled and said “Yes, Mommy” to most requests.

One is a total extrovert.  As soon as homework was complete, Adam was roaming the neighborhood, organizing some kind of ball game.  He was energized by being with friends.  The other son is an introvert.  Stephen’s way of de-stressing after school was to spend time alone.

The boys are different in the way they process information, too.  Our quiet son is a deep thinker.  When he is presented with a problem, he paces silently.  His thoughts are far from my access until he’s ready to verbalize them.  The other son processes by talking through a concern.  Adam will debate both sides, then he’s ready to move onto the next issue.

When Adam was a difficult-to-control preschooler, my self-image as a mother was a little tarnished. 

My friends seemed to be so much more successful at this parenting thing.  Then Stephen came along.  If I only had Stephen, I would have wondered what was wrong with those other mothers, who couldn’t seem to control their children.  By having them both, I realized that my success as a mother depended not on my children’s personalities, but on how I responded to their differences.

My husband and I had the same goals for both sons:

To help them become godly, generous, honest, respectful, hard-worker and caring adults.  But the strategies we used to meet those goals had to be adapted in several key areas:


I remember when Adam was nine.  He asked, “Why doesn’t Stephen get in trouble like I do?”

I smiled, “Why do you think?”

Adam grinned, “Because he listens?”

“Usually,” I replied.

It would have been unfair to mete out the same consequences when our sons disobeyed.  Adam was characterized by pushing the limits, therefore, he needed a firm response when he (often) stepped over the line.  On the rare occasions Stephen ignored the rules, a stern conversation usually brought about genuine repentance and adjustment in his behavior.   The consequences used with Adam would have been too harsh for Stephen’s demeanor.  Fair does not mean equal! 


While words of encouragement are meaningful to both sons, we found that they expressed and received affirmation differently.  Adam is a gift-giver, and was thrilled when we gave him something that reflected our understanding of his temperament.  Stephen expressed his love in acts of service to others.  He felt most affirmed when we responded in kind.  Gary Chapman’s book, The 5 Love Languages is a great resource for this area.


One son needed encouragement to become a better listener.  The other needed more confidence in expressing himself.

Personal Space

Both boys had to clean their room every Saturday.  His room wasn’t perfect, but Stephen is organized and his room reflected that for most of the week.  While it was hard to do, we gave Adam the freedom to treat his room as he wanted during the week.  It often looked like a tornado had gone through, but it gave him a place to be himself.   (Sometimes you have to pick your battles with a teenager!)

Our goals for both sons never wavered.  But we found that if we considered their personalities as we pursued those goals, our parenting was better tailored to meet their needs.

How does your mothering change as you respond to your children?

Jennifer is passionate about children and education. She homeschooled her two sons for five years, established and directed a Christian school in Maryland for 20 years, and currently teaches in a public school in a Chicago suburb. She loves investing in relationships and delights in every moment that she spends with her family.