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."
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
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
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
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
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.
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."