Training Our Children in Generosity

We quit teaching our children to share a long time ago when we were challenged on it by an article my wife read.

What’s wrong with sharing? Well, technically, nothing is wrong with sharing. In fact, sharing is quite biblical. We read in Hebrews 13:16, “But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased” and in 1 Timothy 6:18, “Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share.”

The idea behind both of the Greek words translated “share” in the verses above is the idea of fellowship or of community. Within a close community, sharing takes place in the overflow of relationships. Sharing is something that is chosen by people who are willing. Note in 1 Timothy 6:18, “. . . willing to share.” The impetus here is kindness leading to a chosen action.

So why did we quit teaching our children to share? We quit for three reasons. First, we realized that what we were teaching actually was “forced sharing.” In political terms, this is called socialism or even communism. Second, we realized that as adults, we do not share in the same way we required our children to share. Third, we decided that generosity was a better trait to try to cultivate into our children.

Forced Sharing
Chosen action is not what happens often in our homes, preschools, and children settings where we find a child in possession of something another child wants. Instead, we find force. An authority figure such as a parent or a teacher steps in and cajoles or requires the possessor to give the prize over to the claimant. Sometimes the method is guilt. “You should share, Johnny. Jesus wants you to share with Stan. It’s not good to keep things for yourself.” Other times the method is command. “Johnny, you give that prize to Stan right now.” Less often, force takes over and the larger authority physically wrestles the prize away.

We found that we often could replace the word “share it” in our commands to our children with “let her have it.” We were not so much asking our children to share, an action in which the two use the item together, as we were taking something from the control of one child and placing it under the control of the other child. Then we observed that often when we displaced the prize from child one to child two, child two soon put the prize down, demonstrating that gaining control over something child one wanted might have been the ultimate goal. If that was the case, we were accomplices with one of our children in a power struggle with another offspring. We also were teaching our children implicitly that they have the right to want things that another child has.

Genuine sharing requires cooperation, and seldom have we as parents followed through to require cooperative sharing by both children, nor have we seen caregivers do so in churches. Rather, we stop with requiring the first child to give up sole possession.

Adult Sharing
Let’s be honest, adults do not share very much. If you were at church, walking across the parking lot, and someone you did not really know but had seen at church came over and said, “I want to use your car for a little while,” would you hand him the keys? In our home, our children are not allowed to use our things and seldom go into our bedroom. They must ask permission for what they do use, and they do not take things without our permission.

Adults set definite boundaries around their stuff. My children were watching me keep my stuff fenced off at the very same time I was forcing them to share. Think about it. You are in the car with your child. You stop and buy yourself and your child drinks. He gets grape juice, and you get a cola. You take a drink and then you hear, “Dad, I want your drink.” Is your first impulse to say, “Of, course, Sam. Here, let’s share drinks.” Of course not. You will tell Sam, “You have your drink. This is my drink.”

My wife and I found that ownership with generosity was a much better pattern for training future adults. We assigned every toy and book in our home to a particular child, and we trained our children to respect ownership. Whenever our children fussed over possession of anything, we simply asked, “Whose toy is it?” Our children would answer, and we would say, “Then give it to the owner now.” After a few runs at it, this approach quickly solved all such problems and prevented many others from occurring. Often, the owner then would let the other child play with the toy. We had not taught forced sharing or community ownership, we taught personal ownership with generosity.

Is not this how we adults live? We own things, and we practice generosity. Most of us prefer to choose to be generous than to have an authority force us to share. This is what the Bible teaches. Biblical calls for sharing are calls for the generosity of choosing to give. I cannot give what is not mine.

Jesus did not share Himself on the cross. He gave Himself. Ownership with generosity is the biblical pattern and plan in life and in marriage. Do not share yourself with your wife, give yourself for her. (Eph. 5:25)

Sharing implies a joint effort. Giving is unilateral. My wife and I have found that when our children become generous givers, they also become willing sharers.

%d bloggers like this: