To Share or Not to Share

Sharing. It’s surprisingly controversial these days, huh?

I find the discussions around sharing really interesting. Sure, we only have one son so far, and he has mostly been in daytime care without other kids (or with kids who are significantly older than he)—so it hasn’t become a real issue in our house or our day-to-day life yet. But with #2 due in just two weeks, the days of sharing battles are coming.

We’ll have to decide: make them share, or stand back? The notion of letting kids solve their own social problems is compelling, which would make me lean against forced sharing—but also appealing is the idea of teaching generosity and detachment from “stuff.” As Kendra says, people are more important than things.  (Also, I have an impression that “letting kids solve their own problems” sometimes happens via a lot of yelling and crying and hitting. Which doesn’t sound so great, after all.)

But I am getting distracted.

I actually wanted to talk about the idea that second (or later) children are worse off, because they “have to share” right from the start. First children may get inexperienced parents, but they also get 100% of your attention for their first year or two—uninterrupted nursing sessions; a full-time spotter and cheerleader as they learn to crawl, walk, and climb stairs; immediate kisses for every bumped noggin or bruised shin.

Second children do not always get these things. They can only receive a portion of the parents’ attention, right from the start, because toddlers are not ready to play calmly and independently and safely for hours on end. No, they are not. (Sigh.) Toddlers still need a lot of attention, so the second child’s newborn experience is going to take a hit.

(And suddenly needing to share mom’s and dad’s attention is hard on the firstborn, too—he used to get their undivided attention basically on demand, and now there’s this usurper to the throne on the scene. Pretty jarring.)

Learning to share is hard, and even as adults, we tend to think about it as a negative thing. Sometimes we have to share. Kids have to share. Have to, or else. My turn, then your turn, then MY turn again. My turn!!!

Is that the way we should think about it, though?

It helps me, when I’m feeling disinclined to share, to consider the outrageous generosity of God.

God doesn’t think that we have to share—He thinks that we GET to share. God LOVES sharing. Not in a resigned, habitual, “yes-of-course-I-love-to-eat-my-broccoli” kind of way, but out of pure delight. All of creation, the entire universe, is God’s constant, never-ending celebration of sharing: “Look at all this goodness! I made you, and all of it, just so that we can share it together!”

Adam's all, "Whatevs," but God is like, "No, really! You're gonna love this!"
Adam’s all, “Whatevs,” but God is like, “No, really! You’re gonna love this!”

God didn’t need to create humanity—He is perfect and perfectly self-sufficient. The nature of the Trinity, with three divine persons in one God, means that his very nature includes community and love, so it’s not like he was lonely before creation happened. Our existence is extravagantly generous—He created us simply out of the joy of sharing.

And ultimately, He calls us to imitate that generosity. To share what we have with others, not out of obligation and resigned duty, but out of love. If we have real love for our neighbor, and if our children can experience real love for their siblings, we will be able to truly rejoice in the other person’s enjoyment of whatever we give up when we share.

Have you ever seen something really cool—maybe an unusual sunset, or a double rainbow, or just a weirdly hilarious YouTube video—and you go running to the person closest to you, saying, “You’ve got to see this!” Of course you have. Because deep down we know that sharing things with others makes those experiences even better. Sharing doesn’t mean less stuff to go around, it means more joy to go around.

As St. Francis tells us, “it is in giving that we receive.” Sharing makes us give up some of our stuff, even if only temporarily, but we receive something way better: stronger relationships, happiness, detachment from possessions, and a focus on what’s really important. Those are gifts.

So as baby #2 grows and starts taking away Alex’s stuff, I’m going to try really hard not to repeat too often the idea that Alex “has to” share. Instead, my goal is to say things like, “Isn’t it awesome that you have a brother to share this with? Look how much he loves it! You two can enjoy it together!”

(And no, I’m not so foolish as to think that this will eliminate sibling rivalry, and that my boys will cheerfully hand over their toys and gadgets without a single complaint. We’re all fallen humans, and they have a lot of growing up to do. It’s a process. Sharing doesn’t come easily even to many adults. But it’s good to have a goal line in mind, right?)

Second children may not get the years of undivided attention that their older siblings did, but they get something else—an extra family member from day 1 to love them. An older brother to emulate and to be entertained by. A buddy to hang out with, when mom and dad go out and call in a babysitter.

Having people to share WITH is so, so worth the “cost” of sharing itself.



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