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Differences in Age-related Privileges

I think it’s best to accept the fact that children will inevitably feel that “it isn’t fair”


I have three girls in a row, aged 10, 13, and 15. When they were younger, I used to dress them in matching clothes. Now the older two are getting bigger and need more mature-looking clothes.

The youngest of the three is very upset about this, as the new clothing either don’t come in her size or are inappropriate for her age. She feels she’s being pushed out. She’s so upset about all of this that she doesn’t want to wear her old clothes that still fit her but don’t match her sisters.

As a short-term solution, I could buy her something new just for her. That might make her happy in the moment, but how do I teach her to be happy despite what her sisters (or anyone else) has? This applies not only to clothing differences, but also to differences in age-related privileges. How do I meet everyone’s changing needs in a way that feels fair — especially to the youngest one who feels left out?



You raise some very thought-provoking questions! How do parents give each of their children what they need without provoking jealousy in the others? How do families deal with different developmental needs? These questions are related but not the same. Let’s look at the latter one first.

The way one parents her first baby needs to take into account what will happen when a second child arrives on the scene. If Mom only takes her current circumstances into account, she may decide she can play on the floor for a few hours each afternoon with her toddler. After all, with just the single little one at home, she has plenty of time!

What Mom isn’t thinking about is how her young daughter will feel when there’s suddenly a baby on the scene who needs a lot of attention. “No, I can’t play with you right now; I need to take care of the baby,” will be her daily refrain.

In  addition to suffering the pain of sudden abandonment, the toddler may experience strong feelings of hatred toward her new sibling. This could have been avoided had Mom looked ahead while making her parenting decisions.

The problem is, we can’t always anticipate the future. When our oldest child is five, we often can’t imagine the changes that will be taking place over the next ten years. It’s understandable you didn’t anticipate that dressing the girls in matching outfits would one day become a problem. However, by presenting this problem now, you’re helping other mothers to learn from your experience.

The dress-alike practice may be adorable for the occasional occasion, but probably shouldn’t become a regular practice. The youngest of your three girls has formed her identity around looking just like her sisters. This identity has been suddenly removed from her, leaving her confused and insecure. Now, at ten years old, she has to redefine herself — a tall order for a young girl.

One thing you can do to help her with this process is acknowledge her dilemma. “It feels strange for you. For the first time, you don’t look like your sisters and you have to develop your own style. I know it’s hard to change, and it makes you feel like you’re on your own, but it can also be fun. You and I can go shopping and explore what colors and styles you like for yourself. You’re a big girl now, and it’s a very good time for you to be discovering what you like and don’t like.”

As for the question regarding perceived fairness in the home, I think it’s best to accept the fact that children will inevitably feel that “it isn’t fair.”

You understand why the older ones can stay up later, but the younger ones will always think “it isn’t fair.” You understand why a teen can walk to her friend’s house on her own while a younger child has to be accompanied, but to a younger child it likely just “isn’t fair.”

Adults will notice there is plenty of seeming “unfairness” in the world; the difference between us and children is that we trust that Hashem has good reasons for all that He does. You don’t need to try to make everything fair, nor do you need your child to approve of your parenting decisions. Your child’s unhappiness or jealousy isn’t something you need to “fix.” In fact, by just accepting her displeasure, you’ll help release it. “I know you feel it’s not fair.” Enough said.


Have a question for Mrs. Radcliffe? Send your queries about parenting or personal growth to familyfirst@mishpacha.com

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 782)

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