My daughter is what I like to kindly refer to as “strong-willed.” It feels more productive than saying that she is just hard headed or stubborn. There is some kind of comfort gained by defining her with an adjective that has such positive connotations as strength does. It’s my way of telling myself that the attributes that make her challenging to parent now will be those that I admire as she gets older.
At three and a half, all I can say is that her desire to test her strength of will against ours has left me exhausted. She is in a stage where there is no compromise. It is either all her way or not at all. It seems to me like the only person losing is her. I have tried to talk with her about this and give her examples about how we all have to work together as a unit, a team, a family so that everyone can be happy but to no avail. Until a stranger intervened in an unlikely circumstance on a day when my daughter learned to share.
My husband and I took the kids to grab a quick bite to eat at Izzo’s. My daughter had already eaten but asked for some chips and dip to snack on. With our food in hand, we found a table and began to enjoy our lunch together. Until … I grabbed one chip from her stash. She disgruntley moved the bowl over and stated that these were her chips. Not in our house, I reminded her. In our house, we share with one another. With a shameful pout, she pushed the chips back to me and told me she didn’t like chips anymore. In her words, “I will never eat chips, ever, ever again. You and Daddy can eat those chips because I don’t like chips anymore.”
We spent the remainder of the meal discussing our feelings. I described how disappointed it makes my husband and me feel when she doesn’t want to share. I talked about how sad our feelings were that she would rather not have any chips than allow us to enjoy them with her. She just continued saying that she doesn’t like chips anyway. A lost effort. I was growing tired and increasingly more frustrated.
We finished our lunch, and my husband stood to throw away our trash and place our baskets with the others. Realizing that her dad and I had, in fact, eaten all of the chips and that she, in fact, did like chips, she started to cry. And cry. And cry.
Upon observing her meltdown, the mom at the table next to us shared an understanding glance with me before asking my daughter if she would like one of their chips. My initial reaction was to decline their gracious offer. I thought, “She needs to learn that taking the position that she’d rather have nothing than share something makes her sad.” But, I realized that she could learn more from this situation by feeling the joy that comes when someone shares with her.
She looked up at them, eyes filled with tears, and smiled. Their youngest daughter brought the bowl of chips to her, and we selected one. In a shy and hushed voice she said, “Thanks for sharing.” As did I.
My gratitude went well beyond the transfer of a snack from one family to another. It was the transfer of a lesson from one mother to my child. It was a lesson I was struggling to find the words to articulate because it was actions, not words, that would make this one resonate with my daughter. This family’s actions caused a conversation in our family about how sharing makes people feel. Having been on the other side of sharing, my daughter concluded that “Sharing makes everyone happy.” Yes, sweet girl, sharing makes everyone happy.