To avoid the risk of being pretentious, I’ve categorized this as a confession rather than advice. Along the lines of my first confession, I’ve always taught my children to understand and value ownership. I never demand that they share their things with others, even their cute, younger, innocent siblings. My 2-year-old has his own shelf on the bookcase for his collectibles along with his brother and sister. He knows exactly which ones are his and which ones aren’t. It’s wonderful watching him look longingly at his brother’s new Captain America figure while resisting the urge to touch or demand it. He certainly has the right to ask to play with it but his brother has the right to say no.
One would think that this has caused each child to hoard and lord over their things but the byproduct of this practice has shown quite the opposite for our family. The children aren’t inclined to be selfish but free in their sharing. After being on the receiving end of someone else’s graciousness, they’ve learned the benefit of sharing so that it comes willingly. I often urge my children to be generous, but I don’t demand or require it. Sharing is definitely a virtue and I’ve found success in allowing them to find joy in it so that it becomes an act of kindness and not compulsory.
For those in relationships, however, these practices don’t work. Just roll with it.
TL;DR – My children have learned to share even though they have permission not to.
When we were little, my cousin and I thought it would be a great idea to grow chickens. I mean, seriously, can you really ever have too many? I remember distinctly going to the fridge, grabbing a dozen eggs, and taking them to the back yard. He dug the hole, I placed the eggs. After covering them with dirt and realizing it was 40 degrees outside, we knew we’d need a way to keep them warm. I remember thinking that my mom’s comforter was perfect for the job so I placed it over the dirt pile. After digging the eggs up every 90 seconds and shaking them to hear the baby chickens inside, we finally gave up due to inclement weather. This is a memory I’ll never forget. Looking back, however, the true magic was my mom allowing this nonsense to happen. We were poor… much too needy to throw food away. In her patience, she poured out some extravagant love and allowed us this little science experiment knowing full well that we would fail. Was she spoiling us? Absolutely not. She made a calculated investment into our lives, allowing us to feel the thrill of exploration. Everything I know about extravagance comes from a mother who refused to stop giving. It cost her a dozen eggs, but helped us create a memory that will never be forgotten… plus, if we had succeeded… More eggs!
TL;DR – Don’t be afraid to be wasteful with the ones you love. “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain that which he cannot lose.” -Jim Elliot
I’m not kidding! From a young age, I’ve taught my children to not expect equal treatment at any given moment. I would intentionally go out of my way to get a small gift for one and not the other when I would come home at the end of the day. It might be the boy this time… or it might be the girl. It was an exercise I would practice in order to avoid unhealthy behavior in the future. I suppose I could have just shown them this image and avoided the potential scars just in case my plan backfired:
The result? My children have learned to rejoice when good things happen to the other ones. It’s given me the freedom as a parent to plan a trip with my son for his birthday without my other children wondering things like, “Does daddy love me as much?” I get to take my daughter rollerskating this weekend without my son sulking in the corner. They know that I love them all equally and are able to lean into that truth without insecurity. They’ll never receive a gift or privilege and have to assume, “He only gave me this because he HAD to be fair.” Also, guess what happens the one time you literally aren’t ABLE to be fair. My children are content in my love and I couldn’t be prouder.
TL;DR – Don’t let your children associate LOVE with FAIRNESS. Love will be cheapened and fairness will eventually fail.