Really, ‘It’s Okay Not to Share’ by Heather Shumaker

Is it the 1980s again? I almost thought so after reading the new parenting book called It’s Okay Not to Share by journalist Heather Shumaker. I mean this in a good way.

While sometimes the advice reminded me of Roseanne Barr’s best lines, mostly I thought this new book was brilliant. Shumaker has guts. She’s not afraid to write what most of us are secretly thinking. For example, recently a mom lectured my son about sharing his pirate ship during a playdate. I had the itch to say, ‘Actually, I wouldn’t share my Coach purse with you, so why would my son want to give his toy to your 3-year-old?’ I’ve always wondered why we push this sharing thing on young kids when we adults don’t swap GAP shirts and car keys.

So here are my favorite “renegade rules for raising competent and compassionate kids” from the book. This was good stuff–some of it made me scratch my hair and go, ‘whoa!’

1. My youngest is headed to kindergarten in a month, and all summer long, I’ve been asking my husband, “Is he ready?” This child has a late summer birthday, often pees his pants and doesn’t know the letter J. Shumaker’s book tells me to get over myself. She writes, “Should we teach you [parents] to get ready for old age?” Of course not. So why are we worried about how “ready” our kids are all the time? “Don’t rush kids into academic learning until they’re six or seven. It’s a waste of their precious time.” Instead, she emphasizes that my son needs to play. I know he would agree.

2. When my kids fight, I let them go at it to a reasonable degree (no biting and no banging bricks into heads). At the pool, for example, I often see other parents butting into kids’ conflicts. Shumaker says to stand back and stay out of it whenever possible. “Kids Need Conflict” is the title of her chapter, and she writes, “Children learn about peace by having problems.”

3. When my then 5-year-old said she hated me for the first time, I freaked out and sent her to her room. I acted like I was fuming, but mostly, my too-delicate feelings were hurt. Shumaker says we parents need to man up. “‘I hate you’ is nothing personal,” she writes. Instead of telling the child, “We don’t use the word hate in this house,” (I’m guilty), Shumaker advises parents to say, “I know you’re angry right now. I love you even when you’re angry with me.” Note to self: Wise advice.

4. “Young kids aren’t ready to share. They are ready to take turns,” Shumaker attests. Instead of forcing a child to give his toy to someone else, tell him he can play with it for as long as he wants. This teaches the other child to wait and not grab while protecting the other kid’s right to say, “I’m not done yet.” Children who aren’t forced to share will usually give up their toy sooner because they feel empowered, and they’ll be less prone to hogging the goods later. I totally believe in taking long turns. And I especially believe in not letting anyone–especially my husband–touch my laptop computer.

5. Just because I really like the neighbor down the street doesn’t mean our daughters of the same age have to get along. I tried to force their friendship, and it didn’t work. I lectured them. Shumaker implies a big fat duh to me in her book. “We’re not all friends here,” she writes. “Accept social fears and favorites.” She says that simple exclusion is not bullying, and it’s not mean. Instead, allowing kids to choose their friends makes them more tolerant of each other’s differences.

6. I let my kids have toy guns because I had so much fun playing Charlie’s Angels with my BFF when I was young. I just make sure I shove the fake weapons under my bed before my horrified friends arrive. Shumaker assures me that I’m not setting them up for a future filled with striped jumpsuits. “Wielding a toy gun or sword as a preschooler is not going to cause our child to grow up to be a violent criminal,” she states. “It is social, appropriate fantasy play.” I teach my kids that toy guns can’t be pointed at anyone who’s afraid of them, and they’re very different from real ones. Shumaker says I’m doing okay on this. This is heartening because my son thinks he’s Han Solo and loves to kill Stormtroopers.

Is this advice really renegade or is it retro? Do you agree with some of the stuff Shumaker says? Either way, It’s Okay Not to Share is an enlightening book that will make you take a second look at everything you believe. I think Shumaker’s opinions will help you solidify your own parenting strategies either way.

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  1. by dcorneal

    On August 8, 2012 at 1:14 pm

    Finally, permission to let my kid play with his own toys at the pool and not share with all the thugs who take them and break them. :) Seriously though, common sense parenting is so great — going to buy the book right now!

  2. by Kim

    On August 9, 2012 at 10:35 pm

    The lessons I learned teaching daycare. I had no kids yet, so common sense was all i had to work with!

  3. by Ashley

    On October 4, 2012 at 4:40 pm

    I love this because it makes me feel better about my instincts. It never felt right forcing a toy away from my child and into another child’s hands, but on rare occasions I found myself doing it. Never again.
    Also, the title of the books is “It’s OK not to share”, searching it with the word “okay” won’t get an amazon hit. ;)

  4. [...] are rethinking whether teaching sharing they way we have is the best for our kids. Blogs and books are now out there, telling us that allowing our children to have some conflict and problem solving [...]

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  6. by Developing Emotional Literacy | Transcending Motherhood

    On February 10, 2015 at 12:08 pm

    [...] We tell them to share no matter what. And then we don’t allow them to feel angry about it because we want them to thrive in relationships with others. (yes, this comes from a good place but is ineffective at developing true generosity) [...]