The Unpopular Parenting Rule I'm Sticking To
There’s a lot of chatter these days about sharing. That’s right, the age-old adage of “sharing is caring” seems to be up for debate. Well, not debate, per se, since I think everyone agrees that sharing is caring, but clarification.
A while back a mom went viral for a Facebook post titled “MY CHILD IS NOT REQUIRED TO SHARE WITH YOURS” (because apparently we parents who do believe in sharing need to be yelled at on the internet in all caps). In her post, she wrote about how a bunch of other boys at the park wanted to use her son’s toys and she told him to “just say no.”
While I absolutely applaud any parent who teaches their children the importance of getting out of uncomfortable situations, saying “no,” personal autonomy, and respecting when others say no to them, I am still gonna keep making my kids share.
No, I won’t make your kids share. There’s a difference.
Why do I still force my kids to share, despite all the theories that sharing isn’t developmentally appropriate and that forced sharing isn’t how the real world works? Well, here’s why.
1. Luck shouldn’t be rewarded.
My kids were born with a whole host of advantages that not everyone has. They did nothing to earn or deserve these advantages, and conversely other kids have done nothing to earn or deserve their situations either. Accordingly, they need to share those advantages as well.
For instance, our family has been hosting/sponsoring an asylum-seeking mom and child. Not surprisingly, fights break out over toys. When this happens, I will always — always — make my kids share what they have with them. I don’t encourage them to share, nor do I suggest it. I make them share. Because they have more than they need, so it’s their obligation to share those things. I point out that my husband and I are sharing our house, our food, our time, etc. so the same is expected of them. It’s the price for being human.
My kids didn’t work their asses off for those Legos they are playing with. They were fortunate to be born into a family with enough disposable income to buy them Legos. They have grandparents who shower them with toys and stuff they do not need. They didn’t “earn” any of this — it was handed to them largely through a giant stroke of luck. As they say, to whom much is given, much is expected, and this mama expects her kids to share, dammit.
Important reminder: My rules about sharing apply to my kids only, not others. I am talking about forcing my kids to share, not anyone else’s, because (like I mentioned above) other kids do have different circumstances. The child seeming to not share the swings, for instance, may not understand English. The child who won’t share their cars at the park may only have a couple cars to play with and is scared to lose them. A child who sneaks your food when they play at your house might not have enough food at home.
2. Kids are selfish by nature so they need to be taught how to share.
Of course, we have lots of conversations about why they need to share, but ultimately if kids had their own way — especially young kids — they would keep things for themselves. This isn’t because they are assholes; it’s because they are kids. It’s our job as parents to teach them how to share and sometimes that means making them share even when they don’t want to.
2. It’s possible to teach kids the importance of sharing while also respecting their autonomy and boundaries.
The other day I was at the park with my kids, my niece and nephew, and a girl who is currently living with us. As soon as they got onto the swings (like literally 30 seconds later), a group of little boys came over and said they wanted the swings. Not surprising, since kids usually want what is suddenly popular. I said, “Sure, you guys can swing as soon as we’re done.” I told all the kids they could use the swings for a couple more minutes, and then it was the other kids’ turn. Simple as that.
3. People are more important than things.
Sharing might seem weird on the surface, but helping someone and being kind to others — even strangers — is super important to me. Like SUPER IMPORTANT.
But we don’t share our cars or ottomans, people say. Except that yes, we do! Or at least, I do and I want my kids to be the kind of people who would do so as well. If a neighbor asked to borrow my car, I would likely say yes. We “borrow” furniture all the time — it’s called Goodwill, garage sales, and good ol’ fashioned trades. (Facebook is filled with “no buy” groups that are amazing!) Just a few weeks ago, I picked up a dresser from a friend’s house and I’ll likely pass it on to someone else when we don’t need it. If I have something you need, I will absolutely let you borrow it because these are things, and helping someone is more important than my stuff.
In a viral Facebook post, Alanya Kolberg included an example of how if she came the park with a sandwich, she wouldn’t need to share it with anyone. Yes, true. But what if a homeless man was sitting there and asked for something to eat? Would you give him your sandwich? I would because I know I have plenty of food at home and the means to buy another sandwich. What if someone asked to use your phone to call their spouse? I wouldn’t hesitate. What if a colleague asked to borrow your stapler, your laptop, your chair? Call me crazy, but most of the time, I would absolutely say yes to all of these.
Of course, there are limits to the things we share. We don’t (typically) share husbands (those are people, not things), and I wouldn’t want to share my toothbrush (that’s just gross), but for the most part, I am willing to share just about any thing I have. And I expect my kids to as well.
4. I’d be a hypocrite if I didn’t make them share.
I believe in things like universal healthcare, tax breaks for the working class, and a minimum wage that is actually a living wage. All of that means that I am forced to share some of my money and belongings so that others can have the things that they need. I am totally fine with this because, ultimately, I believe in things like equity, justice, and fairness. If I didn’t make my kids share their cheap plastic toys, it would be kind of hypocritical of me to expect others to be forced to share their hard-earned dollars.
5. Sharing isn’t incompatible with boundaries and respect.
Saying yes or no is easy. The middle area is what’s difficult. It would be easier for our kids to flat-out refuse to share their sand toys; it’s much harder to take turns, collaborate, or figure out a way to find a mutually beneficial way to make a sand castle. The same is true when the “sharing” includes things like office space, parking spots, and apartments. Bottom line: It’s possible to say yes to sharing while also saying no to things that make us uncomfortable, setting boundaries, and teaching others to treat us and our belongings with respect.
For example, we can let our kids have one or two special things that they don’t have to share. For my kids, it was their Blankies. They didn’t have to share their Blankies under any circumstances, but that also meant keeping them at home or in a special place if they didn’t want to share. Letting kids choose which toy to share can also be a helpful way to respect boundaries while sharing. Bottom line: It’s not an either/or, zero sum game.
6. It helps them practice non-attachment, which can help us be happier.
I’m hardly devout, but I do ascribe to many tenets of Buddhism, including the idea of non-attachment. Basically, non-attachment means that while we can enjoy things and appreciate them while we have them, we don’t hold on quite so tight to things. We recognize that everything in life — toys, iPhones, cars, and even life itself — is temporary. By following the principle of non-attachment, we are better able to deal with loss and adjust to the ever-changing nature of life, including the discomfort of sharing.
7. Sharing teaches other things, like patience, friendship, and teamwork.
Now, I’m not one to judge a situation in which I wasn’t involved, but I wonder what might happen if, instead of saying no when a new kid at the park wants to use our kid’s toy, we show them how to take turns with it? Maybe the other kid is an asshole, in which case our child will learn how to deal with assholes (a necessarily life skill, in my opinion).
On the other hand, our kid might make a new friend or two. Maybe they would learn to appreciate the joy of doing something kind for someone else. Maybe they would suffer through a few minutes of letting the other kid play with their toy and practice patience — something we could all stand to practice a little more.
I know it sounds naïve, old-fashioned, and simplistic, but even though making kids share seems downright weird and maybe even mean to some, I’m gonna keep making my own kids share.
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