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Why I Make My Kids Share

I have become a mom with a catchphrase—even worse, it's from the Bible. Luke 12:48: "To whom much is given, much is required." I find myself repeating this to my children at the park and on play dates. I'm not repeating it to instill faith in God or encourage them to follow a branch of Christianity. I repeat those words to remind my children to share.

When my daughter doesn't want to share her toys or refuses to let her brother in her room, I find myself explaining, "You have a lot of things and so many people who are kind to you; you need to be kind in return." Or more simply, "If you want people to be nice to you, be nice."

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I recently found myself on a play date with a mother who explained she was done with making her kids share. "It's ridiculous: Adults don't share; why should kids? Do I want to teach my kid to hand over everything of theirs?" She said.

"Yes," I said. "Yes, I want them to learn that." Our children are white, they are upper middle class, they have toys and books and clothing. They lack nothing. "Yes, I want my kids to learn to be generous with their gifts. They have so much, I want them to be givers."

The mother shook her head. This, like whether to introduce a pacifier or make baby food, was going to be a point of disagreement with us. My friend isn't the only one who disagrees with me. Recently, mothers have been questioning the policies of sharing. One mom wrote, "This is not how things work in the real world. In your child's adult life, he's going to think he's owed everything he sees. This is already happening in the next generation."

I'm not trying to create a socialist utopia. I'm just trying not to raise assholes.

Another parent writing for the NY Post noted, "Are we giving them the sense that all stuff is collectively owned and just by virtue of their presence in a room, they are entitled to take part in its use? That's not exactly the kind of message we want to send to create tough strivers. How will they understand the importance of property rights to growing a free and prosperous ­society?"

To be fair to the anti-sharing crowd, I think a lot of the pushback is coming from the phenomena of hovering parents. Too often, playgrounds, parks and play dates are monitored by parents who micromanage every interaction—grabbing toys, forcing kids to share and take turns, before they even have a chance to work it out themselves.

But sharing, as I define it, isn't requiring your child to immediately hand over a toy because someone else wants it. It's fighting the impulse every child has to prevent other kids from touching/taking/breathing on their stuff. And this is why I make my kids share.

I am not trying to create a generation of tough strivers or entitled whiners. I'm not trying to create a socialist utopia. I'm just trying not to raise assholes.

Whatever else my children learn, whatever else they take away from their years in my house, I want them to know this: You have to be kind.

The world is a jumbled place of incongruity, unfairness, anger, resentment, violence and rage. Navigating those waters even as a baby is tricky. So often when you interact with someone, you aren't just interacting with them in that moment, you are interacting with them in a culmination of moments—tired, stressed, exhausted, napless, foodless. So, whatever else you know or don't know, whatever else you assume or suspect about a person, always approach them with kindness.

Even if my daughter was playing with a princess wand first, she has 10 wands and she can share. Even if my son had the toy car first and is engrossed in play, he can share one of the dozens of other cars laying at his feet.

Goodness is necessary, not just for survival, not just for the promulgation of the species, but because more things are important than just winning.

This is a tall order of a lesson to teach to a baby and a 4-year-old—I get this. My children are so little. They are just processing the world around them. They barely understand concepts of personal property or even person, but that's why I find it even more necessary to require kindness and sharing and generosity. Let those be the filters through which they see the world.

It can seem counterintuitive to an evolutionary model. The child who strives is the child who wins, but altruism is found even in nature. Mongooses support the elderly and sick. Meerkats often leave a guard to warn of a predator attack. African buffalo will rescue a captured herd member. I once met a scientist who was researching empathy in rats. "Rats?" I scoffed.

"Oh yes," he assured me. "It's there. We don't know why, but it's there and it is real."

Altruism in nature is also a puzzle for biologist. There is no clear cut way to mesh up the harsh world of survival of the fittest with the altruistic behavior of dolphins who support the sick and aging, by caring for them and pushing them up to the surface for air.

Better to let them die, evolution says. Teach them to be tough strivers.

But there is something more at play here than just survival. Something more acute to the human condition (or possibly even the condition of the world, if the dolphins are to be believed). I think, what is happening here is this: Goodness is necessary, not just for survival, not just for the promulgation of the species, but because more things are important than just winning.

More than winners. More than strivers. More than the evolutionary advantaged, I just want my kids to be good. To have hearts that feel for the heartbroken. To have hands that help those in need. Noses that push people to the air. More than going to Yale or making millions, I just want my kids to be kind. The world doesn't need more lawyers, it needs more kindness—more people to push others up for air when they need it most.

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That seems so reductive and simplistic, but it is so true. Kurt Vonnegut said it best when he wrote in "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater": "Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you've got a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you've got to be kind."

Image via Twenty20/swesthov

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