Feb 15 2009

My Share

I happened upon a thoughtful blog by a mother (her name is Stefanie Wilder-Taylor) who suggests that sharing is overrated. She makes a case for avoiding the trap of relentlessly pressing our children to share:

We as a society are big on sharing. It seems that we find it to be a reflection of our own and our child’s good manners. I’m not immune to the pressure to make my children share but lately I’ve been wondering why we insist on forcing this issue when it clearly doesn’t come naturally.

It’s not that she doesn’t want her kids to share, of course she does. But she also wants them to have boundaries. As much as we try to teach our kids to be polite and generous – and I believe we need to, now more than ever – we also want to help them grow a backbone.

There are two kinds of sharing going on in this house: Short-pants (usually) doesn’t hesitate. “Of course you can take it,” she’ll say. It makes you want to cry. Buddy-roo is more calculating. She keeps track. A piece of candy shared from her stash is an investment in future loot. One child is Mother Theresa and the other is Captain Quid-pro-Quo.

Like Wilder-Taylor, I’m not immune to the “honey, you need to share it” mantra that must come to me when I tap into the collective unconsciousness of conscious parents. I do say it less often than I used to, since a friend pointed out something I hadn’t considered. “Nobody really likes to share,” he said (in his deep, occasionally officious voice), “Maybe you should try asking them to take turns.” I think he’s right. Sharing implies an indefinite and unchecked relinquishing of that favorite toy. Taking turns gives you light at the end of the tunnel.

A Shouts & Murmurs essay that ran in the New Yorker last summer (by Simon Rich) nails it by demonstrating what it might be like if adults were subjected to the same indignities as children:

Lou Rosenblatt: Can I drive your car? I’ll give it back when I’m done.
Mrs. Herson: I’m sorry, do I know you?
Lou Rosenblatt: No, but we’re the same age and we use the same garage.
Mrs. Herson: No offense, sir, but I really don’t feel comfortable lending you my car. I mean, it’s by far my most important possession.
Brian Herson: Mom, I’m surprised at you! What did we learn about sharing?
Mrs. Herson: You’re right . . . I’m sorry. Take my Mercedes.

We’re constantly telling our kids to share but are we willing to share as effortlessly or selflessly as we expect them to? Watching the US congressmen and senators wrestle over the stimulus bill last week – it’s a bit of a stretch, I suppose, but this is a form of sharing – I couldn’t help but wonder: what would their mothers say?