Is Sharing Fair?

There’s been an opinion piece from the Scary Mommy blog floating around the interwebs recently, entitled “9 Reasons Why I Won’t Make My Kids Share,” by Joelle Wisler. I’ve seen it several times, and it’s irked me from the beginning. Each rereading (yes, I’m a compulsive reader, so I’ve read it at least four times now) causes my ire to grow. I have several reasons for being irritated by this mom’s description of what sharing means and why she wants nothing to do with it.

First, Ms. Wisler opens her piece with this analogy:

You have just settled yourself down at your favorite coffee shop with a hot drink and you open up your laptop. A stranger walks up to you and says,

“Hey, let me have a turn on that thing.”

You say, “Um, no. This is MY laptop.”

He says, “No fair! It’s my turn!”

And then he goes and tells on you to the barista. The barista comes over and says, “OK, I think you’ve had enough time on the laptop. It’s time to give your friend a turn.”

And then she takes your laptop away from you. That’s crazy, right?

But, you see, that isn’t sharing. That’s a very strange case of enabled entitlement. Her analogy sounds crazy because it is crazy. If your child takes his personal Etch-a-Sketch to the playground and sits quietly on a bench using it, nobody expects him to hand it over to some other kid — because it belongs to him. It’s not public or common property. But here are some real-life examples of when an adult might, in fact, be expected to share.

  1. You settled down at your favorite cafe and plugged your laptop in to the one available outlet an hour ago. Another customer, who’s also using a laptop and has been unplugged for 45 minutes, politely asks if he can have a turn with the outlet. You are a decent human being, so you quickly unplug your cord as you apologize for monopolizing it.
  2. You’re at your local gym. Your favorite piece of weight equipment for toning your abs just happens to be the only one of its type in the place. In the zone, you pound out set after set until your vision blurs, but suddenly you’re interrupted by a polite voice saying, “Are you almost finished here? A few other members were hoping to use this.” Because you learned manners as a child, you feel embarrassed as you realize you’ve used it for fifteen minutes, and you apologize to the waiting gym members as you quickly vacate the seat.
  3. On a lovely sunny day, you visit a local park. You see a bench in the perfect spot to bask in the solar glow, so you stretch out with a contented sigh. A few minutes later, a shadow falls across your face, and you open your eyes to behold a hugely pregnant woman with her elderly grandfather leaning on her shoulder, both out for a summer afternoon’s stroll. Since you’re a considerate soul, you quickly sit up and offer a friendly smile, in case the duo wishes to take a short rest in the course of their perambulation.

Ms. Wisler’s #4 point was just as odd. It literally made my jaw drop — I mean, my mouth opened and shut as I tried to form words, but all that came out was “Whaaaaaa?” She says,

It’s weird. Sharing is weird. As adults, do we share our cars? Our ottomans? Our husbands? Last I checked, I wasn’t a sister wife.

But…but…YES WE DO! We do share all of those things, routinely, without even thinking about it. What kind of  alternate universe is she inhabiting? I share my car with my husband, both my kids, and any assortment of friends or family who might be present and requiring transportation or companionship. If I had an ottoman, of course I’d share it. My family and visitors would use it if sitting in a chair near it. In fact, I might even use it at the same time as someone else, since my son has an odd habit of climbing onto my legs and lying down on them every time I put my feet up. Yes, I would share my ottoman without hesitation. And my husband? Well, first of all, though I’m married to him, my husband isn’t my possession. But I do share him. Besides being my husband, he’s also the father of my two children, the son of his parents, the brother of his siblings, the colleague of his co-workers. He has numerous other relationships. I don’t get him all to myself. Wanting him to spend all of his time with only me would be a sign of a dangerous level of codependency.

Number 5 and number 9 just solidified my belief that Ms. Wisler is approaching this issue from a perspective vastly different from that of most socialized humans. She says,

I’m not interested in fair. Contrary to popular belief in the grade school set, life actually ISN’T fair. And it won’t ever be. Good luck out there, little people. Yes, that kid has had the toy for longer than you. That’s rough, but I think you’ll make it through.

And,

Maybe if children learn that they can’t have everything they want right when they want it, there will be a lot nicer people growing up in the world. You know, people who don’t throw a temper tantrum at every little provocation…

But, you see, fairness actually is important. Regularly making the attempt to act with fairness (or, better yet, kindness) is what makes society run smoothly and pleasantly. Childhood is the ideal time to learn to take the feelings, needs, and desires of others into account.

No, life isn’t always fair, but you can be. Fair means if there’s one available swing on the playground, you use it for a reasonable amount of time. Fair means taking turns, or figuring out a way to play together. And no, fair doesn’t mean having what you want right when you want it. You might need to wait. But should my child miss out on using that swing altogether because your child refuses to give it up for half an hour, despite the growing crowd of disappointed kids who all hoped to play on it?

As an adult, sharing fairly includes returning those library books when you’re done, or leaving the extra-wide parking space near the entrance for people in wheelchairs. Just because the book is in your possession doesn’t mean you get to keep it for the rest of your life; just because you don’t feel like walking doesn’t mean you should make the store inaccessible for those who need maneuvering space.

Learning to share as a child makes you more bearable as an adult. It makes the world more pleasant. It helps to ensure that limited resources continue to be available. Learning to share will not damage a child’s psyche. True, life isn’t always fair. I think most of us agree, though, that attempting fairness whenever possible will help us all enjoy this world a little more.IMG_3229.JPG

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