I Am So Sick and Tired of People Telling Kids to Share

I am so sick and tired of people telling kids to share. I mean, when did “sharing” come to mean arbitrarily giving up something that you own and were playing with, to someone who is going to run away with it indefinitely? Is there some other, "parent" definition of sharing? Did I miss that day in Parenting 101?

“Let’s share, Emily!” the other mother says, swooping down on her toddler who is happily playing with her plastic elephant under the jungle gym at the playground. “Let’s give this little boy a turn!”

The little boy in question is my son. He’s been inching his way closer to Emily (whom he’s never met before) for the past five minutes, hopefully eyeing her elephant but making absolutely no eye contact with Emily herself imagining, I’m sure, that she won’t see him if he just doesn’t look at her. He’s now close enough that his desire to play with the elephant would be clear to anyone watching and Emily’s mother has intervened.

“It’s okay, he doesn’t . . .” I start to say, but it’s too late. “Come on!” Emily’s mother is saying, pulling Emily up from her absorbed squat into the light of day where she has absolutely no idea what is going on and was the only person in the playground who hadn’t noticed my son’s interest in her toy. “Give your elephant to the little boy!”

Then, of course, there is a scuffle. The elephant is ripped from Emily’s hand. Emily is screaming. My son is triumphantly running off with the elephant. And, as I follow my son (to get the elephant back), I hear the other mother say, “But Emily, we have to share!”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for sharing. But not this strange, mutant version of sharing. Imagine if grown ups had to behave the way we are asking kids to. If, for example, you were sitting on a park bench engrossed in your book, no one would come up to you and say, “That man over there seems really interested in the book you’re reading. Why don’t you share it with him?” You would never be expected to hand over your book to a total stranger so that he could read it instead of you. You’d just get to keep reading your book oblivious to the other person’s interest in it.