I recently wrote a column about sharing, explaining why I’m a social pariah and have never made my kids (or anyone else’s) share anything. After writing it, my mom told me that she was amazed by this position at the time (when they were young and this came up a lot)... and she remembered that they always had ‘special’ things. Sometimes, the entire playroom was ‘special’ and the visitors had to play with my stuff, or outside games, or complete make-believe, because no toys were available.
I have received such a fun collection of responses for this position! It is amazing to me, how thoroughly socialized in this ‘children must share’ idea many people are, as if it strikes at the core of what is right and true in the world.
One woman has the mother-in-law beast from Hades. Mother-in-law has a key to her daughter-in-law’s home, and welcomes herself and her negative diatribes against both her daughter-in-law and the grandchildren, just as often as her little heart desires. The daughter-in-law is ‘powerless’ to do anything about this, because it would be rude to, say, change the locks or bar mother-in-law from entering or ranting.
After I pick my jaw up off the ground, I realize just how different life can be in different families. Not only would my mother-in-law never risk such behaviour, knowing perfectly well she’d be lucky to escape with her life the first time, and would never get away with it twice, even my own parents do not have keys to my home. Although they are welcome anytime, being polite and respectful people, it just never crossed my mind that they had any ‘ownership’ in my house... even though they loaned us money for buying it, and it took many years to pay them back. The bank also has a huge ‘stake’ in my home, and they aren’t welcome to walk in anytime they feel like it and mouth off to their hearts’ content.
I am not required to share my home under any circumstances – because it’s mine. No one around me expects me to – because they acknowledge that it’s mine. I don’t expect to encounter any indication that I am required to share my home. But for that woman, her experience is very, very different. It is clear to me that the ‘ownership’ of her home is not absolute, and it’s up to other people when, how and for how long she’s required to ‘share’ her time and possessions.
it’s up to other people when, how and for how long she’s required to ‘share’ her time and possessionsIt is exactly this muddling of ownership that I sought to avoid, in allowing my children to share (or not) as they chose. When they know for certain that the object in question belongs to one or the other of them, neither needs to struggle to stake their claim... and lending the object doesn’t confer ownership in their own minds, so they have no difficulty ‘taking it back’ when they are finished lending it, or in letting the loan stand for years.
Because I’m inclined to go take any issue to the furthest possible extent, in my home this meant that the owner can:
- refuse to lend it ever
- refuse to lend it now, no matter how many times it’s been
- repossess the loaned item at any time with any or no explanation
- give or refuse to give any explanation for lending or not lending, including
‘because it’s mine’ (This has made some people extremely uncomfortable,
particularly other mothers who have really bought the ‘children must learn to
share’ edict. The fun side of this for me is that I agree – children must learn
to share. But, that is also the caveat: they must learn to share. That is, they
need not be forced to share, but must come at it organically and through genuine
A lot of people don’t trust that this can ‘just happen,’ so they force the issue. In my opinion this actually eradicates the natural generosity children have. It is hard trusting that this will, eventually, be learned: when the child is capable of understanding ownership, sharing and generosity will naturally follow.
It is especially difficult to believe for people who only share because they think they are obliged to, grudgingly at that, because they know how distasteful sharing is. Other people hold the power, they can keep it as long as they like, treat it any way they want to, and decide whether to ever give it back.
This absence of trust that children will ‘just’ grow up, mature, become generous, share, learn... etc., etc. is the heart of a lot of unnecessary struggles for parents
Parents often know, intellectually, that children will grow up because of the internal need and desire to do so, but they don’t trust it --they don’t trust the knowledge or the child-- so they do things ‘just in case’. Unfortunately, ‘just in case’ is made out of fear, not love, and fear destroys things. Fear doesn’t create or facilitate things, it impedes them. It creates force, which creates resistance and resistance damages the innate need and desire to grow.
Forced sharing destroys innate generosity, and removes the conditions that make it possible to learn to share.