Every few months, it seems, I read something about a parent who is saying enough to this whole “sharing thing.” “It’s weird,” they say, and then go on to talk about boundaries and the importance of saying no. And while the internet gives the “no sharing” parent a standing ovation with emoji fist bumps, I’m left staring at my computer screen, thinking:
What the actual fuck is going on here, people? Whatever happened to “sharing is caring?” Am I the only one who thinks learning to share is important?
A mom recently 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.” The internet was downright giddy with its “hell yeah!” and “abso-fucking-lutely” responses.
But while I absolutely applaud any parent who teaches their children the importance of getting out of uncomfortable situations, saying “no,” and respecting when others say no to them, it is possible to teach our children the importance of sharing and boundaries. And while it might be true that we don’t have to share, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t share, and here’s why:
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. Just last weekend, I took a friend’s treadmill over to my brother-in-law’s house and left with their dresser. 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 her 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.
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 requires that I 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 remind my kids to share their cheap plastic toys, it would be kind of hypocritical of me to expect others to share their hard-earned dollars.
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.
Non-attachment 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.
Luck shouldn’t be rewarded.
Let’s be honest, 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.
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 share or 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 sharing seems downright weird to some, I remain a staunch believer. Except when it comes to sharing my chocolate stash, then all bets are off. Nah, I’m just kidding (kind of).