Today I heard a comment from a friend about “those parents” at the playground who don’t seem to care that their children don’t share. This complaint is not uncommon. No one likes someone (adult or child) who doesn’t share. But I’d like to say something on behalf of those parents the complaint is directed at. Yes, I am one of those parents.
Now, it’s not that I don’t want my kids to share. I don’t discourage sharing. I even encourage it in some ways. But I do not explicitly instruct my children to share. That’s not out of laziness or apathy. It’s a very intentional policy of mine, based on a number of reasons. For example, one reason is that you can’t share what you don’t possess, and young children are still learning the very concept of ownership, which makes the word “share” extremely abstract.
Another reason is that I don’t share, and neither do you. At least not in the way you ask your kids to. And kids aren’t stupid. Do they see you offering your iphone to the guy behind you in line at the grocery store? Do they see you handing your car keys over to the other mom you just met at the playground? Of course not. Isn’t that what you’re telling them we’re supposed to do?
But my top reason for my policy on sharing is this: We can do a lot more for our children in terms of preparing them for life in this world if we teach them to deal with what they can’t have, than if we teach them that everyone’s supposed to share all the time. In life, you often can’t count on others sharing. What you can count on is that there will be others who have something you want, and that you’re going to have to learn to live with not having it. Even if some people do share with you, the wanting-something-you-can’t-have thing is pretty much guaranteed. So the happiest people will be the ones who are good at accepting what they don’t/can’t have – not the ones who are good at sharing, nor the ones who are accustomed to being shared with.
Then what a wonderful teaching opportunity we get at the playground, when Billy has a shovel, and Timmy wants to use it! One gets to practice having something, and the other gets to practice accepting that someone else has what they want and practice finding another way to be happy. But if we say “Billy, you must share!” what are we teaching either of them? Maybe we should say “Timmy, that shovel’s not available right now. What else can you do?” And in doing so, we help them both develop the skills and wisdom necessary to be satisfied in life, and to feel genuine happiness. Happiness that’s not dependent on getting what they want. It’s the kind of happiness that inspires people to be generous. And, yes, maybe even to share.