Here’s how it starts: you have one child who is lovely and amazing and he plays well on his own and he gives you hugs and kisess all the time and he sleeps until 9:00 every morning. Then you decide to have a second child. The second one never sleeps and mostly just cries and when he finally gets over crying all the time, he starts to take things from his brother. That’s your firstborn. You love both of these children and you want them to get along. So what do you do?
Okay, so here’s a little confession: those are my two boys, the oldest of my children. We were lucky enough to get a firstborn who was really an amazing baby, pretty even-keel, emotionally speaking and nice and would let anyone hold him. Our second is pretty great, too, but very different. He is either very happy or very sad. When he was 2 years old he loved The Hulk (not Captain America or Iron Man, like other kids… The Hulk.) He would walk around holding this little Hulk figure and he would say, “Hulk SMASH! Hulk SMASH!” in a loud low kind of voice. I would tell people that he probably identifies with The Hulk. He goes from zero to monster in no time. When he’s angry, he’s the “Hulk SMASH!” kind of angry.
When “Hulk SMASH!” wanted something, no one wanted to say no. So, there we were, going head first into a big river of sharing. And the current was strong. And the rocks were bruising.
I’ve heard the opinion that explains why we shouldn’t teach our children to share. I understand that as adults, we are not expected to share our cell phones and cars or homes or groceries. As adults, our possessions are ours and we don’t have to share them. And if someone asks to share them we shouldn’t feel obligated.
I understand that sometimes what is ours is ours and no one else can have it. Like my glasses and my purse.
Then there’s the principle of generosity.
I have this really old, beautiful, smelly dictionary that I love to use. Someone actually gave it to me…someone who was being generous and thoughtful. Here’s what it says about the word “generous”:
It attributes generosity to nobility. It says generous people are magnanimous. Willing to give or share. Unselfish. Bountiful. Rich in yield, fertile (said of land, but I think it applies to people too.) Rich, full-flavored and strong (said of wine, but I think it applies to people too.)
I want my children to know that things are just things. Anything that they own and find precious, I know is simply not worth arguing over. Anything they own and love can be easily replaced or remade. I know that kids are sticklers for keeping their stuff in their own hands, but I don’t believe that’s healthy.
My children get the generosity lesson a lot with Lego creations. I tell them that “Legos are meant to be taken apart and rebuilt.” My children are allowed to put a Lego creation on a dresser, out of reach, for a little while, but the next day (and sometimes sooner) they have to take it apart or give it away and start over. And they can’t hoard the Lego blocks.
This is a lesson I face every day too. I do need my glasses and my purse, but if my daughter (not included in the sharing saga because she’s a happy 1.5 years old) wants to pick it up and carry it around for a little while, I let her. She’s not allowed to dig into my purse and scatter its contents around like breadcrumbs, but carrying it around isn’t going to hurt a thing.
My children don’t go to school anywhere, so we mostly deal with this sharing thing in our own home or at playgrounds. There, especially with strangers, I want them to learn generosity. I think that’s a true test of character. It’s easy to be generous with those we love because we get to reap the benefits of friendship. But if they can learn to be generous toward people they don’t know, well, they could change the world.
If I teach my children that they don’t have to share, I am teaching them that their possessions mean more than people do. That’s not what I want them to learn. I want them to find joy in the joy of sharing. I want them to learn to love people. I want them to be noble, unselfish, rich, full-flavored people, not stingy, selfish, lonely people. They are not allowed to expect that others share; that would create another kind of monster. I just want them to learn generosity.