I was at a discussion yesterday where one woman suggested that if your kid doesn’t share at an early age it’s a sign of sociopathic behavior. She cited a recent Wall Street Journal article with a headline that asked a seemingly innocuous question: “Does Your Kid Have the Sharing Gene?” I, like any concerned parent would, ran home to see if my child was destined to be the next Ted Kaczynski.
Alas, the article didn’t say anything about sociopathic behavior. In fact, it didn’t say much at all, other than to tell us that some kids have a gene that lets them share and some kids don’t. (Apparently, the kids who don’t have the gene have parents who refused to share that DNA). More importantly, the study that was cited does not tell us whether kids who share will have more fulfilling lives or ultimately feel like they got gypped.
Don’t get me wrong; sharing is a good thing, if it’s done for the right reasons. But not all acts of generosity are the result of truly altruistic behavior and not all seemingly selfish acts are done because the person lacks a gene that makes them want to share/donate/volunteer to save the world.
My 11-year-old falls into the latter category. He wants to share/donate/volunteer to save the world but he never wanted to share his toys at the park. “Mine!” was something I heard a lot. And I was more than ok with it.
Probably because my older son was way too generous with his toys – and not just because we told him he was supposed to share. He would share because he thought it was the right thing to do. But after watching him give up whatever he was playing with just because someone asked him to, I decided to teach him a new lesson.
Needless to say it didn’t work.
I remember it like it was yesterday…
We were at the park for our daily digging in the sandbox session: my then three-year-old with his little yellow shovel, me with my book. A little boy, about the same age as my son, approached him and asked to have the shovel. My son, always eager to please, was handing over the shovel when I intervened.
“He’s using it right now,” I sweetly explained to the little boy.
“But I want him to share,” the little boy responded.
“Maybe when he’s done with it,” I said. “But you can bring your toys over here and play with him.”
Now, I added the last part because I knew the kid didn’t bring any toys and because sharing, to me, is inherently reciprocal. In other words, you show us yours kid and we’ll show you ours. Off he went.
Shortly after this exchange, the little boy returned with his mommy in tow – not what I expected him to want to share but hey, maybe he was tired of playing with her and thought the shovel looked like a good exchange. Unfortunately, he wasn’t trading her; he just brought her along to argue his case.
“My son would like to share your son’s shovel,” she said to me.
“But, he is using it right now,” I explained even though it was quite obvious that he was still in the process of digging to middle earth. “Your son is welcome to play here and have the shovel when we are done with it,” I added.
“Your son should really share,” she added indignantly.
At this point, my son could see what was coming. Even at three he knew the look on my face did not mean everyone was going to leave the park happy.
He really wanted to give his shovel away now.
“Give me your book,” I said to the woman pointing to the novel tucked under her arm.
She looked at me as if I had just crawled out of middle earth. “My book?” she asked.
“Yes, your book,” I said. “I want to share your book. Now.”
“That’s different,” she said. “I’m reading it and it’s not a toy that is meant to be shared, it’s a book.”
“That’s ridiculous,” I told her. “Both toys and books are meant for enjoyment and I want to enjoy your book now just like your son wants to enjoy my son’s shovel now.”
She knew she was not going to get anywhere with this argument so she stomped off, probably to explain to her son that he should never act like the crazy lady with the selfish kid.
My kid, on the other hand, got a whole different lecture. Although I’m sure I told him not to act like the crazy lady who wouldn’t share her book, I do remember telling him that he does not have to give away his toys just because someone wants it; he should give up his toy only when he is done with it and no longer needs it.
This is what he probably heard: slip the kid the toy while your mom isn’t looking.
©2011 by Connie Lissner. All rights reserved.
originally posted on 10/27/11 at acontrolledsubstance.com