Parenting Young Children: A New Four-Letter Word

By Wendy Rhein



In my household there are very few “bad” words. The normal ones that some folks and the FCC would include don’t even make my list. Most of those are collectively known as “Mom’s driving words” and are relegated to the car. I however take my list from the ones my parents used when we were coming up.

Shut up.



I’ve added a couple, like “gay” for anything derogatory or the ever present – though I cannot understand its trans-generational appeal – “retarded.” My sons hear me talk about why these words are truly hurtful, soul-dulling words. At seven, Nate understands. When he hears others say one of them he gasps and points with such drama you would think a coup d’état was afoot. He reacts the same way when someone has eaten the last brownie but painstakingly covered the empty pan with foil and left it on the counter. Ahem…

This week, I’ve decided I am adding a word to the lexicon of evil. FAIR. Fair is hitting my list.

There is no such thing as fair. Nothing is fair, nothing ever will be fair. Things are or they are not, but absolute, unchallenged, all-inclusive equity simply does not exist. And I am sick to death of trying to correct the practical ‘not fairs’ like “it isn’t fair that this boy in my class has a summer house AND a winter cabin!” or “it is only fair if both Sam and me get the exact same vitamin shape every single day.” Not to mention the absurd not fairs like “it isn’t fair that Spiderman can shoot webs and I can’t” and “hey no fair that you got up before me.” Really? To whom is that not fair?

My real issue with fair is not the annoying statements or my inane need to address each of them with comments about what you DO have and CAN do, or my core need to instill a radical level of gratitude in a 2- and 7-year-old whose brains may simply not be ready. My real issue is that I think that labeling things, people, actions, as fair or not is a way to separate oneself from others. It is a way to keep some folks out of the circle and some in. It is a way for kids especially to point out difference and for adults to perpetuate a sense of not having or not being something that they put outside of their own control. Basically it puts a word to self pity or self aggrandizing or the inability to create change. All of which I refuse to buy into. And more importantly, I refuse, flat out refuse, to let my sons buy into. Something you want? Is it really that important and if so, what are you willing and able to do to have it? Want to be something? Figure out a way to make it happen. See an inequity? What can you do to fix it? Don’t just slap a word on it and throw up your hands to the universe and pout.

When I respond with these comments and questions to statements like the one for multiple homes or for web-spinning skills, we create conversations about the real or lack of importance of these things. Most of the time our discussion ends with a sense that that thing or process is really not that important in the scheme of our lives as a family or Nate’s place in the world. I want him to find another way to articulate what he envies or fantasizes about without labeling it with the judgment-heavy “fair.” That doesn’t get us anywhere. There is nowhere to go from that label except to the awfully lonely land of “us and them.”

So I’m taking a stand. FAIR is a word that hurts and damages. It is going on the list. Express your desires and need for inclusion in other words because that one doesn’t help any of us be better. And we can be so much better.


  1. says

    With my kids, the FCC words were on my don’t say list as well as stupid, idiot, jerk, fat, shut up and loser as well. I want to add, Am I right Grammie? and What do you mean? I also reverse those two things with my grandsons and ask What do you think. In the same category as fair this, fair that. Life as you said so well Wendy is not fair, never has been and never will be. Great article today.

  2. Laura Thompson says

    Hi Wendy, Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! For this absolutely on the mark post. I am constantly talking with M and Q about their perception of fair. I too really dislike the word and for many of the reasons you stated. This morning Q said to me, what I have said to him many times, “life isn’t about fair…and the sooner you learn that, the better off we will all be.” It made me chuckle but then I wondered if he really believed it himself or was just mocking me …probably the latter…but at least my message is sinking on some level. Your message is so timely for us that I might even read post/paraphrase it to them tonight.

  3. says

    Laura – thank you! I have been truly baffled by this fair/no fair idea and had to come up with something that would convey how hurtful it is to the child saying it. I believe it hurts OUR kids when they say it and the thought has to be repositioned into something positive and self-reliant.

  4. Sarah says

    The big no-no in our world was bored. Oh, the assignments you’d receive if you said you were bored! I think I have a good vocabulary because of it.

  5. ef says

    Interesting to me and the whole notion of “fairness” and “have/have not” is a frequent topic of discussion – especially with my 8 year old. However, I will personally not ban the use of the word fair or the expression “It’s not fair,” because I am provided with amazing opportunities for teaching and guiding when these (otherwise quite annoying given the inevitable whine that accompanies them) words do arise.

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