So first of all, a story. So you can see why this popped into my head today.
As a kid, my arch nemesis was a girl, “E.” I’ve been pondering a lot lately on how one goes about acquiring an arch nemesis (because everyone needs one)…and I can’t really remember how she became mine. I have a few hazy memories of various fights we had, but overall, she was simply a spoiled brat. (I confirmed this from my memory with my mom later on as an adult.) And we just didn’t get along.
To complicate matters, E was the oldest daughter of my dad’s longest and dearest friend – his old college roommate and fraternity brother. My parents had married. Dad’s friend married. The 4 of them traveled together and did all of those other things people do without kids. And then they got pregnant at the same time. I was born 3 months before E. I’m sure our parents had visions of us growing up to be best friends. Needless to say, it didn’t happen. My parents attempted to merge our families through various visiting weekends and trips together. But E and I didn’t mesh. So badly that eventually the adults decided they would have to be friends without the kids. And they left us at home while they went on to continue their friendship.
But there is one particular disagreement that I remember vividly. We must have been about 7. Her family was visiting mine for a few days. And she and my sister and I were playing dolls (Glamour Gals – remember those?) in the back of the house while the grown-ups were talking in the front.
I had a most special Glamour Gal. So special that I did not even let her rest in the traveling town house case with my other dolls. So special that my little sister knew not to ever touch her. She was golden in my memory. Gold hair – white blouse – maybe cowgirl attire? I don’t know. Anyway, my favorite thing about her was her hair. And I would never, NEVER brush her hair. Because I knew, in my 7 year old doll-hair wisdom, that once the small plastic brush touched her golden locks, she would be ruined. And so it was.
On that particular day, E really wanted to play with Golden Girl. I, of course, said no way. My sister tried to be the diplomat, explaining that Golden was my most favorite and thus not up for sharing. But that she could play with any other of the 28 Glamour Gals in the box. But E would have none of it. Sensing my weakness, she honed it. Screamed, whined, and threw a holy fit. Grown-ups intervened. And my mom came down.
“E is a guest. You have to share.”
I felt so betrayed. My mom knew better. I could see it in her eyes. But she was only doing her job. After all, it was her house and she had a duty to surrender all. Or so she thought. E’s mom really should have stepped in to do something. But she wasn’t up to the challenge. And so there it was.
A child was scarred.
My sister and I both looked on in horror as E grabbed up Golden and went right for the tiny purple hair brush. I screamed. And ran crying to my room. I have no memory of ever playing Glamour Gals after that day. It was that traumatic of a memory for me.
And that is why I have never made me kids share. Not once.
Now since I made that earth-shattering, subconscious choice that I would never make mine share, I’ve had more time to think about it. And thus back it up with better reasons than that. And so, here they are:
- If we are making them share – doesn’t that defeat the point?
- If our goal is for the kid to be nice…what happens when said kid resents the other kid because she has to share? (Ahem…see earlier story.)
- How does this prepare them for life? As adults, would I feel okay with someone coming over to visit and helping themselves to anything they wanted? My food, my laptop, my phone, my clothes, my car, my underwear?
- There are some things that are just not for sharing. And this should go for kids, too.
- What are we…Communists?*
This not-sharing thing was really, really hard when my kids were toddlers and we first started having friends over with toddlers. It was hard for me. Because socially, I’ve been conditioned to believe that as a gracious hostess, I should turn over anything of my kids’ to any other kid who walked in the house. This is crazy nuts of course. But it was hard and awkward and hard then to do on my part. But I stuck to my guns.
And then later on I got some better tools for making this work. Now, it’s pretty easy. As long as I remember to say to my kids before other kids arrive, “Okay, So-and-so is coming over to play. Is there anything you don’t feel like sharing?” And then they look through the house and put away (hidden – out of view) whatever they don’t want to share. And then I say, “Okay. Now everything that is out is for sharing. Everything.” And it’s done. When I remember to do this, I never have problems sharing. My kids are fine with it.
And the interesting thing to me is that sometimes they choose something that is a natural choice. The large Lego Star Wars ship that took all afternoon to build. Definitely let’s put that away so it doesn’t get broken. But other times they choose the most random things imaginable. Things I know they don’t really care about. But they feel so much better having put something away. And that’s fine with me.
Sometimes I forget to do this. Or we have kids over unexpectedly. And sometimes this goes fine. But other times they suddenly will come to me saying, “Mommy! I don’t want to share my ____ and I forgot to put it away.” If I reminded them to hide stuff beforehand, I’m less generous with this. But if it was a surprise playdate (we ended up taking home extra kids after school for example) then I will usually try to sneak the said toy into a hiding place when no one is looking. But sometimes even that doesn’t work.
Last week, 4 had his most favorite little friend on the planet over. This was planned, but I forgot to remind him to sweep the area. And little friend started playing with something that 4 decided he absolutely did not want to share. 4 is a great little sharer. (5 not so much.) And 4 loves, loves, loves this kid. So I looked at him and said, “I see your friend really wants to play with this. I think he will feel really sad if you lock it up in your box. Remember how much fun you had last week at his house playing with the little red action figure? It’s your toy, though. You decide what to do.”
Because honestly, if he had locked it up and didn’t let his buddy play with it, I knew what would happen. Buddy would have been mad and huffed off, not wanting to play with 4. And that…would be a natural consequence. And it would have likely caused 4 to rethink the whole sharing thing. But he didn’t even need to do that. 4 instantly handed it over with a sigh. And they went off to play and all was fine.
But I didn’t make him share. No, I did not.
Honestly, this was something that I used to think was a parenting weakness of mine. That I was neglecting to teach my kids to do something major – all because of what happened to me when I was 7. How much of how we parent is really a reaction to the way we were parented? Think about that for a second.
But as my kids have gotten older and I’ve watched how they share toys with each other and with other friends, I’ve come to the conclusion that my way isn’t that bad. I don’t think it’s leaving them socially ill-prepared for life. It hasn’t cost them friends. And most importantly, it hasn’t pitted them against anyone. Especially not me. (There are plenty of other things I do to drive a wedge between us, let me assure you. But this isn’t one of them.)
So I’m glad my mom goofed and that E, the little devil, ruined my toy. Because goshdarnit, I believe that made me a better parent.
Now – as a side note to this whole post…
Here’s what made me think about this today. You know those two wonderful, smart, adorable little princesses who spent the past two days at my house? Well, let me tell you another little story. Once upon a time I went to college. And met a wonderful new lifelong friend. Who also became a sorority sister. And a roommate. (You can see where this is going, can’t you?) And anyway, we both got married, got babies, the works. Our first babies are one month apart no less. And in a weird twist of fate…guess what she named her first child? I’ll give you a hint: It starts with an E. (And let it be known that this is not some common name, mind you.)
I remember her telling me the name on the phone and I paused. This couldn’t be. My best friend’s baby having the name of my arch nemesis? My sweet adorable little perfect goddaughter with a name destined to cause her to be the hated enemy of my own son, born 4 weeks before?
This was all making me ill.
But then a weird thing happened. I kind of forgot about the original E all together. And Fate didn’t send my kid the memo that he was supposed to hate the new E. And whatdoyouknow, history doesn’t always repeat itself.
I know they are only five. And they have plenty of time to hate each other, if it’s destined to be. And if they do, that my friendship with E’s mom will not change. But I really don’t see arch enemies anywhere in their future. And the two of them played together non-stop for the past two days. Without One. Single. Scuffle. And that’s something. Especially if you know my 5 year old. The child who usually gets grossed out by girls. The child who hates to share. The child who has to control everything.
That child spent a good 45 minutes listening to the new E lecture him in doll maintenance. He looked up at her for one moment, as she was brushing the long brown hair of an American Girl doll, and said, “Hey, E! I know! Why don’t you cut her hair?”
I gasped. Flashbacks. The name. The doll. The hair. It was all coming rushing back to me.
But before I could intervene, I heard E look at him and roll her eyes**. “Because. It wouldn’t grow back.”
And that was that. Then they went off to put on a musical show.
A much better scene to file into my memory bank. Thankfully.
- *Okay. That was my attempt at national-self-deprecating humor, in case you didn’t get it. I’ve been reading a lot lately about the 1954 Guatemalan coup, can’t you tell? Damn red scare.
- **Yes, you can really hear that.