Yesterday evening I got a gentle little nudge to think around corners. I was feeling frustrated and upset with myself for blaming the children over minor arguments about computer times. They are so used to needing to take pauses when playing, browsing, or writing, so that I can check in with customers and respond to messages. Mostly they are patient over it - and over sharing in general. The last couple of days, Morgan and Jenna have both wanted Minecraft at the same time, which has happened every now and again but has usually been resolved quickly without my intervention. But Morgan had clearly had enough of waiting.
Morgan is quite introverted, self contained, and serene. Her main preference is usually that everyone around her is happy, and I struggle not to constantly check that she is OK because the difference between Morgan happily going along with something and Morgan unwillingly self-sacrificing is very hard to see. She just isn't as vocal, or as verbal, as the rest of the family. I love her quiet serenity, but I find her hard to read. Sometimes I don't realise how much she has been giving way to others until she reaches her sticking point. When Morgan sticks, she really sticks. Like a solid little stone in the path of any plans anyone else might have had! (I'm not complaining, or concerned with changing her - she's awesome, and she just is who she is.)
Anyhow, I'm sure you can imagine how that all worked out. One laptop. No more talking: proper all out warfare. And I felt bad. Conflict between them always feels hard, but when they are both feeling extremely sensitive and stubborn over something and *anything* I do to help feels like taking sides, it really hurts. My first thought was, "Why can't they just think of each other?!" My second thought was, "Because they are both always having to wait and sacrifice over this one issue. The problem isn't that they don't like to share, the problem is that there is a resource we could ideally do with more of to go around."
I strongly believe that children learn to share best when they feel they themselves have enough. Primarily enough affection, attention, support, help, and respect. When a toddler wanted to be held so much I got touched out, removing myself more often made them cling harder, offering more of myself when I felt I had more to give allowed them to let go more easily after a little while.
But it has held true with everything else too, for us. When chocolate was a rare and grudging treat, they could not get enough - when we started to make food which I considered "unhealthy" available to them and they could access chocolate any time, they stopped eating much of it at all (other side effects included sharing their sweets more freely, and stopping before they had finished all of something). Since we have had a tablet, bickering over television has completely stopped (not that they never disagree, but now they are much more willing to think of a way around the impasse, give way to each other generously, and try to help the others get what they wanted too).
So thought number three was, "I *hate* that we can't just get them the things that would make their lives genuinely more joyful and easy." These are kids who, when we were really struggling for money, asked me to stop buying food for snacking rather than cancel a charity donation. They have had weeks when we mostly ate lentils, rice, and soup because those things were cheapest - and not complained. They are so damn lovely. And for most of their childhoods, money is going to be an issue for us as a family. Most of the time we live very happily and comfortably on not much - we choose to, because we wanted one parent to be available at home as much as possible. Then there are times when I feel selfish for being happy with not-much, and for having four children, and for staying at home with them - because I have exactly the life I best love, and yet they didn't get so much choice about it!
The gentle nudge came in the form of a friend saying, "If you asked, I would help." So I asked. And just a few hours later, a pound here, a few pounds there, my friends had bought us an extra laptop.
How's that for community, huh?!
Thank you doesn't seem nearly big enough. (I mean, I still haven't got over that time three years ago when Martin had just got a new job and we had a month without money and people kept bringing us food.) It's a step outside of a comfort zone to actually ask for help, especially when the thing I am asking for is something that is honestly more frivolous. We could live without it, and have been living without it for years. I have my own discomfort with consumerism, and ideas about material posessions being morally negative, and hang ups about talking about money. Yet none of these things are things I feel I must teach my children - either they will agree with me, or they won't. I would rather support them thinking issues through themselves, and help them to think clearly about their own values (not mine).
Overthinking is my thing, you know?
It boils down to something very simple, though. A whole lot of people generously love, pray for, think of, and give to my family as and when they are able. That generosity allowed me, this week, to generously gift my children with a tool they will be thrilled to use. And the kindness ripples out from there, as my family is touched and wants to touch others, as my children feel that sense of plenty and share with each other and people beyond our home. Kindness begets kindness begets kindness.