From an Unlikely Source
August 8th, 2011

I get lots of good parenting advice.  I get it from my parents and in-laws.  I get it from my friends.  I get it from books.  I get it from fellow bloggers.  And this past weekend I got it from an unlikely source.

While IEP napped GAP and I were watching an episode of Louis CK’s show.  For those who don’t know him, Louis CK is a stand-up comedian who also has a scripted show that portrays aspects of his real life.  It incorporates his role as a single dad, and his attempts to do right by his kids under imperfect circumstances.  As many comedians do, Louis CK has a bit of an edge.  But in one of his softer moments in the episode we were watching, he dispensed some terrific parenting advice.

After halving a mango along the sides of the pit to make a smoothie, he was left with a disc of mango with a good deal of edible fruit still attached to the pit.  The cameras followed him as he peeled it and stabbed a fork in one end, walked the treat into his dining room, and gave it to his older daughter who was doing her homework at the dining room table.  His younger daughter then promptly marched into the kitchen and declared, “I get a mango pop too!”

The dialogue that followed was fascinating.  He told her that he only had one mango.  She said that wasn’t fair, and that if her sister got a mango pop she should get one too.  He countered that she and her sister are two different people and can never be expected to get exactly the same things.  The logic that was burrowed in this heated conversation between a six-year-old and a grown man was ripe for dissection.  Her implied position was that parents are expected to treat their children equally, which he had not done.  His more explicit position was that she can’t go through life expecting everything to be exactly even all the time.  Fascinating though it was, it wasn’t the thing that grabbed me most.

In a moment that was a eloquent as it was surprising, Louis CK said to his daughter, “The only time you look into your neighbor’s bowl is to see if your neighbor has enough.  You never look into your neighbor’s bowl to see if he has more than you do.”  Even now I am stunned at the simple beauty and generous spirit of that statement.

For the moment, IEP is still an only child.  But that won’t be true for long.  He will get older.  His sense of justice will evolve.  And he (and his siblings) will compare themselves to each other as well as other kids they know at every turn.  I would guess that trying to explain to little kids that life isn’t fair is an often-futile exercise.  Trying to teach magnanimity at the same time seems like fool’s errand.  And yet this one simple sentence seems to convey all of it in one tidy little package.

The scene in the show ended with Louis CK abandoning his lesson out of frustration.  For whatever reason he decided it wasn’t worth the fight and gave his younger daughter a consolation prize of some sort.  (There was still only the one mango pop…)  I’m sure that I will have comparable moments as a mother – moments when the wide grassy path of completely equal treatment of my children will carry the day.  But I know there will be times when things don’t shake out with such balance.  When those situations arise I will do well to remember Louis CK’s approach to the “but that’s not fair” argument that will surely pour from my children’s mouths on many occasions.

You only look into your neighbor’s bowl to see if he has enough.  Words to live by for all of us, to be sure.

7 Responses to “From an Unlikely Source”

  1. Ana Says:

    I love this! So very true in life, but something we tend to gloss over in parenting, where keeping things equal is usually the norm (both to avoid fights and to teach this simplistic and unrealistic ideal of “fairness”). And agree that the source is completely unexpected. Louis CK is pretty funny, but “simple beauty and generous spirit” wouldn’t be the first thing that comes to mind…

  2. Gale Says:

    Ana – I know. He’s the last person I’d have expected to hear such a gem from. Somehow it made me appreciate it all the more.

  3. TheKitchenWitch Says:

    I happen to think he’s hilarious. But then again, I am foul. :)

  4. Laura H. Says:

    That’s great advice for all. Love it! Refreshing for a Monday morning. Thanks Gale!

  5. BigLittleWolf Says:

    What a great lesson. Surprising when we’re hit with such good words from “an unlikely source.”

  6. Bridget Says:

    I love Louis CK and I love that he had such a profound lesson buried in his humor. An unlikely source indeed; thanks for sharing his wisdom.

    If you have a few min – laugh and nod along with this Louis CK bit:

    The man is funny, but mostly because his obsevations are so true.

  7. Cathy Says:

    The whole “fair treatment” has been one of the hardest issues for me as a parent and I know it goes back to my childhood. I dislike it to an extreme.

    I like the value about looking into your neighbor’s bowl. This will stick with me, hopefully for quite awhile.