Sunday, February 6, 2011

Weekly Column: Sharing Takes Practice...and Removal

In the middle of our living room, there is a small footstool.    It is unobtrusive, fitting nicely between the couch and the coffee table, but its presence is vital to the lay of the room.
It is a seat when a little girl needs to color at the table or when she’d like a snack.  It is a favorite resting spot and fort accessory.  It becomes a chair, ladder, or wall as needed, fulfilling every possible job qualification a footstool might encounter. 
And it is worn out.  Stained from years of spills and soles, the footstool looks very much loved. 
So loved, in fact, that it is often the center of an argument.  Daily, my daughters argue over who should be sitting there, who thought about sitting there first, who needed to look under the hinged top for a hidden treasure – the grievances go on, and my patience wears thin.  After the third or fourth irresolvable difference of opinion regarding the footstool’s rightful ownership, I’m ready to order a matching one online with priority overnight shipping.  I’m ready to declare that BOTH girls have a footstool, and there will be no more fighting over the best seat in the house.
But I know that wouldn’t work. 
As soon as I’d doubled the coveted seating, they would probably find a way to argue over whose was placed in the wrong spot on the carpet.  There would be fights over who gets the new, pretty footstool, and who’s stuck with the old, dingy relic. 
No, the way to solve the trouble of a fight over one popular item isn’t to acquire another.  It’s to teach sharing and turn-taking and appreciation and exploration of alternate options:  irritatingly fair techniques of child-rearing that create a nasty ruckus at the outset but promise wonderfully desirable results long-term. 
The trouble is, I find myself avoiding nasty ruckuses at all costs.  I mentally stamp my foot and cross my arms, flatly refusing to worsen the immediate situation even if it means things will be better later.  Passively, I dole out timeshares.  Someone declares my decision to be unfair, another attempt is forged, and round and round we go; demands and whines abound.   By now I’ve heard so much argument over one small, inconsequential footstool, that I cannot avoid the ruckus any longer.  
I jump into the fray – weapons raised and ready – and take the infuriating footstool away altogether.
 A full-blown toddler-fueled riot ensues.  One would think there is no other seating in the entire house that isn’t crawling with spiders or covered with flaming lava.  But the nasty ruckus is necessary, and I won’t back down. 
If, after a few guided attempts at sharing and turn-taking, my little ones are still not finding peaceable solutions, taking the item away will serve as a useful reminder against the same removal’s necessity next time. 
If I’ve paused long enough to turn moments of argument into moments of learning, they should know better.   If I’ve stepped down beside my irritated children and taught them words and ways to solve a problem on their own, they should know better.  If I’ve modeled the best ways to explain a grievance – calm and clear rather than screamed and frantic – they should know better.   If I’ve done those things over and over and over, and they still can’t decide on their own how to share the footstool, I’ll be removing it. 
I do hope they learn before I feel forced to remove it as far as the donation box; although it’s more trouble than it’s worth, that dingy little footstool is mine. 
See?  Generous sharing in action.

2 comments:

  1. Oh yeah, we go through the same things here all the time. That is what happens when you have more than one girl! You don't need to give the footstool away, they need to learn all the qualities that you listed. How else are they going to grow up to be great moms and teachers of the future generation? You are doing an amazing job!!

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  2. so true. Can't remember when the last time I got to go to the restroom by myself was.
    I especially hate public stalls with my kids trying to open the door, crawl under the door or giving everyone else a play by play!

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Hmm...And how did that make you FEEL?