Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Fair Share

"The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries." -Winston Churchill

Sharing. Fairness. They are a cornerstone of parenting, childhood, and a current political debate. As parents, we begin to instill in our children the all-important concept of sharing at a very early age. And as soon as they can speak, children will soon declare that no matter what you decide, no matter how things are split up, it's not fair. That they are somehow being wronged. To me, that is essentially the cornerstone of the political argument over whether some people pay their "fair share" of taxes. If you ask me, the politicians who spew that talking point sound like whiney children too.

My feelings on this issue were solidified recently during a fun and innocent game we play with Peanut. The game is called "Elefun." Do you know it? A mini air blower that comes in the shape of an elephant shoots paper butterflies up its very long, plastic, collapsible trunk. The object is to catch as many butterflies in your little net as you can. Wholesome family fun jam-packed into two minutes or less. When the last butterfly has been caught, you turn off the elephant and count to see who has the most.

Often, I try my hardest to sweep as many butterflies as I can into my net in that frantic two minutes. Why should I try any less just because my five year-old daughter wants to win? I want to win too. I also use this as an opportunity to teach Peanut how to lose. Like her dad, she is not a very good loser. So I feel she needs to lose more and cry less when she does it.

Once, after a particularly well-fought round of Elefun in which Peanut was not victorious, My Director decided to appease a whimpering Peanut by sharing some of her butterflies with her. It annoyed me. Our exchange went something like this:
"She has to learn how to lose. And how to lose gracefully." 
"I'm teaching her about sharing." 
"That's not sharing. That's giving a handout to a someone who didn't earn it." 
"You're ridiculous."
Maybe I am ridiculous. Or maybe I just want Peanut to know that if she wants something, she has to work for it. No one is going to give her anything for free. Sharing, for that matter, should not forced. Not by guilt or by government. It should be done out of the kindness of one's heart, by those who have the means. It's funny, because one of the basic struggles parents must endure is teaching their child - or children - to share. It's something that worries us a lot since Peanut is and probably will be an only child. There is a fine line, I admit.

The next day, we played again. You know how it is. Kids love a particular game during a particular period of time and it's all they want to play for a week or so. One round, My Director's effort was so pitiful she couldn't buy herself a butterfly. Upon counting four in her measly stash, Peanut volunteered to give some of her hard-earned butterflies to My Director. She wasn't asked. A handout wasn't expected. My Director wasn't upset that her hard work hadn't paid off. "You don't have to share if you don't want to," I told her. "You EARNED those butterflies. It is completely up to you if you want to share them." (I was proving a point.)

In a gesture of goodwill, Peanut decided to even out their two piles. That's sharing. Doing it because you want to, out of love and kindness and understanding. Not because you have to. Then again, Peanut wouldn't have done it had My Director not set the example the night before. Maybe we're both right.

Either way, charity begins at home.

Candy Land also provides a valuable life lesson, as I wrote about here.


  1. We played Elefun once, once... It sure does make for curiously shaped welts and bruises.
    Fairness is paramount to children, I think innate, especially with twins, and oh so difficult to teach. My MIL is a happy woman who thinks no one should ever win any game... it sort of drives me nuts.

  2. Great stuff and so true. You all win again. Thanks for the great blog.

  3. I think you are both right, because you are both teaching different sides to the same philosophy.
    You are right in focusing on personal responsibility and honor in behavior, so much as that applies to Elefun. And, your wife is right in demonstrating personal choice with her own wealth and what to do with it.
    It's good you are extra vigilant about Peanut sharing. I had an only for ten years. He was and is the most generous kid in the world. People were always amazed he was an only. They learn what they live. When they see you giving to and looking out for and being kind to and helping others, they learn to do the same.


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