[Week 19 of 52 Weeks to a Better Relationship With Your Child]
The wrong approach to sharing can strain a parent-child relationship. The definition of share, whether a noun or a verb, implies both ownership and voluntary action. Understanding ownership rights for children still under the guardianship of parents is crucial to understanding sharing in the home, so I recommend my recent post Guidelines for Children’s Property Rights in the Home.
Here are 5 common distortions of sharing:
- If you are nice, you will share
- You need to share if asked
- Everything should be shared
- There can be rules about sharing
- Sharing leads to great friendships
Let’s look at these prevalent claims one at a time, keeping in mind that there will be some overlap.
If you are nice, will you always share?
Deciding with whom and when to share something is a multifaceted decision. I suppose that if both parties have good attitudes and motives in the transaction, then, maybe it is almost always nice to share. What makes this statement obviously lacking is asking the question, “How much sharing is enough?”
If sharing is always the nice thing to do, then does it have to be equal? Would it be better to just give the other person everything you have? Or maybe you think that sharing a certain thing would be bad for that person or not allow you to use the thing in a better way.
The owner of something should not be limited to what is currently judged “nice” by non-owners. Even if there is no concrete plan to use the resources in another way, an owner of something should feel free to refrain from sharing even if the only reason is saving for later possibilities. Doing so does not make him a non-nice person, especially if there is no life-altering need by someone else.
What does it mean when a person asks someone to share?
This could more accurately be called begging. Children should be taught that such requests should be limited to times of extreme need or as part of very close relationships. They should not ask except under those special circumstances, and they should be wary of people who feel free to ask for things.
Of course, parents usually have the kind of relationships with their children that makes children feel free to ask. Parents do their children a disservice by sharing whenever a child asks. By doing so, they miss opportunities to help their children feel comfortable saying no to others who try to guilt them into sharing.
For instance, I have known parents who felt they had to sneak into a bathroom to eat their own food or special treat. This should not be so. A child can learn that sometimes a parent gets to enjoy something without giving it to everyone who begs.
I was recently with a grandchild watching a show that was supposed to teach about sharing. One character was working hard in the orchard to harvest his crop. Another character came by while playing and asked for some of the hard earned produce. The working character was pressured by others to “share.”
A show that wants to teach genuine sharing should involve more honest evaluation of the situation. Any asking should be well tempered with humility on the part of the askee, rather than a sense of entitlement. And what about balancing it with a segment about not selfishly asking for other people’s stuff?
Some things are not meant to be shared
Sharing is often presented to children as all inclusive. This is confused in two major ways. First of all, many of the things they are told to share are not even their’s. What is really happening is that they are being allowed to use something with guidelines.
This is especially true for younger children. Most of the things in a home belong to the parent, even the toys. A more useful approach can be take turns or use it together nicely. Once it is made clear who something really belongs to, the issues of common use become more clear.
If something clearly belongs to a child, a parent can still set guidelines without attempting to force sharing. Maybe the item should not be brought out when there are certain visitors. If guests are being treated poorly or ignored, it might be best to put something away for a while.
Secondly, adults don’t highly value things the same way children do. This can lure parents into treating children’s belongings as more trivial. This will frustrate a child.
Most adults would consider it obnoxious if a friend kept asking to borrow a car or take half of the groceries from the pantry. When you scale this down, this is too often what is asked of children. They are expected to share everything they have.
You can’t force someone to love you
Setting guidelines for behavior in the home is not the same thing as forcing a child to share something. The truth is that if a parent forces sharing of something that the child really owns then ownership has been usurped. Sharing is not taking place on the child’s part because the thing in question is no longer his.
Just like you can’t force someone to love you, you can’t force someone to share. A parent can teach a child all the reasons for sharing and the situations in which sharing would be a good choice. Still, the choice has to be the child’s for it to be sharing.
Good friends have your best interests in mind
A good friend doesn’t hang around because of what you can give them. A good friend cares more for the camaraderie and mutual emotional support through life. Sharing ends up being natural and incidental.
Some people hang around to get what they can. All the sharing in the world won’t make them better friends. In fact, they tend to be the askers and the manipulators.
The best way to weed out such acquaintances is to stop sharing!
There are definitely times when we choose to share with strangers or those who will only be loosely connected. For this or any other sharing to be truly meaningful, we have to basically forget about it. If we want friendships with people, we can’t hold our sharing over them anymore than they should try to manipulate us into sharing.
What is the right way to share?
Sharing is not a one-dimensional issue. There is no easy answer to every situation or relationship. We need to help our children learn to evaluate their childhood opportunities to share so that they will be better equipped to share wisely and with pure hearts when they are adults.