Fair Doesn't Always Mean Equal

Chris and his wife have twins. One of them plans to go to cosmetology school, and the other plans to go to college. Chris wants to be fair to each of them. What's the best way to do that?

QUESTION: Chris in Dayton and his wife have twins. One of them plans to go to cosmetology school, and the other plans to go to college. They have the money to pay for cosmetology school, and they also have enough money to help the one who wants to go to college a little more . Chris wants to be fair to each of them. What’s the best way to do that?

ANSWER: Why does it have to be equal to be fair? That’s a phrase we’ve used around our house all the time because our kids grew up saying crap like, “It’s not fair!” Welcome to life. I didn’t want them to think anything was fair, because it’s really not. You can have equal and it not be fair. It can be fair and not equal.

I would probably have a tendency like you to try to somehow do something for the one I’m not having to spend as much on, but they had equal opportunity. They just chose different tracks. You didn’t mandate this. You didn’t take away from one an opportunity. They just chose to do different things.

There’s nothing wrong with doing some equalization. She’s going to have three years of income that the other one doesn’t have. Yes, she’s earning that income, but this is the track she chose. I don’t feel the need to do this or I’ve somehow hurt the other one. I probably would do something nice to help her get set in business. If there’s a chair cost or something when she’s buying into a salon or whatever, maybe you help her do some of that, or if she even sets up her own deal, help her with some of the costs of that—just to help that particular kid, not necessarily having that motivation be that I spent more on the other kid though.

What if two kids want to go to two different colleges and one of them is just more expensive than the other and both four years? You have to make up the difference? This could get really expensive at some point.

We never used the rule that fair was equal at our place. Some people have different situations and different needs. The way I look at it, too, is like this: What if you had an extreme situation? That helps me remember fair is not equal. If you had a child with special needs and one who didn’t, obviously the one who is special needs is going to get more financial care from you than the one who isn’t. Not equal but fair. That helps me remember that fair is not necessarily equal. That is very fair to take care of a special needs child in excess of what you would take care of your non-special needs child. That illustrates the point.

That’s how we looked at it at the Ramsey house, but Chris, there’s not a right or wrong thing. I don’t think you’re a bad dad if you match it all up and everybody’s equal. My grandmother passed away several years ago, but she was just death on equalizing all of the Christmas presents. They had to be freaking exact. She was scared to death that one kid was going to be a nickel off the other kid and somehow didn’t feel as loved or something. She spent a lot of effort on that, and that was an act of love on her part to try to balance it out. It’s an okay thing to go that route. I just have never wanted to be handcuffed by that. We kind of ran our ship a little differently. I don’t think you’re bad if you want to give them some extra money—the one you didn’t spend as much on. That’s not a bad thing. I don’t think it has to happen in order to put you in the “good dad” column. Otherwise, I’m not there.

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