On Sharing

Last week we were at the playground outside of Laurel's school and she wanted this other little girl's chestnuts. Well, they were actually buckeyes, but they both kept calling them chestnuts. There's a buckeye tree on the playground at her school. It's been dropping nuts all week and apparently, it's become quite a game for the kids to collect them. I find them tucked in the bottom of her backpack, in her sweatshirt pockets, and in her lunchbox.

I have a pet peeve about parenting and teaching and it's mostly about myself, lest you think I'm casting a wide judgmental net. I hate when I attempt to teach a lesson and in doing so give a wildly inaccurate picture of how the real world works. It feels like lying to me.

Getting to work on time is one of those things. Yes, generally speaking it's a good idea to figure out how to get where you need to go by a certain hour, but neither M nor I are punching a clock these days. We work a lot, but the "when" is sort of up to us. So, when I need to enforce this rule with my teens (who have a job where they do actually have to be there on time), I try to emphasize that the reason is because the program staff is counting on them and that minutes count when you are working with kids and blah, blah, blah. It has nothing to do with some universal, when-you-have-a-job-you-must-be-on-time rule. I'd rather teach them to understand the context of their situation and behave accordingly.


Parents are always nagging at their kids to share. Sharing is good, right? We're supposed to do it. And little kids don't like to do it, so we have to teach them. Obviously the best way to teach them is to nag them incessantly when they resist doing it.


This is sort of what happened at the playground. Laurel wanted a nut, and the other girl didn't want to give it to her. The girl's babysitter saw this interaction and then tried to convince the girl it was the right thing to do to share. The girl wasn't buying it. I hate this conflict. It's my least favorite part of any playdate. I'm inclined to just let the kids work it out, but usually parents end up getting involved and we think we're turning it into a teaching moment. But it must not be very effective, because it happens over and over and over again.

There's a famous poem, "Children Learn What They Live." Written by family counselor Dorothy Nolte in the 1950s, it has been passed on by photocopy and email and cross-stitch ever since. You might even have a copy hanging on your wall. It's all about surrounding kids with the traits that you want them to take on. Be the example.

Parenting is like being on stage. Never have I felt so vulnerable in having my flaws and quirks exposed and examined and imitated 24 hours a day.

At some point, you have to separate your actions from the free will of your child, but I think it's a useful exercise to at least ask yourself the question, what is my child seeing in me? Do I share? Do I just share with my family? Or do I share with everyone? Do I share things that I worked really hard for? Do I share with people I don't know or don't like? Do I share willingly or do I stomp around about it? Do I place a high value on personal ownership? What does sharing mean to me? Do I have to share until I have nothing left or is it ok to put a little something aside for me?


Anonymous said...

So what ended up happening with the "chestnut"??

k said...

Laurel wouldn't leave so I picked her up. As she was freaking out the babysitter came over with a nut and gave it to her. No one left happy.