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    Respecting Property Rights

    November 2, 2010 by Brandy Vencel

    I‘ve taken two parenting classes from two different wise, experienced, believing couples, and they both mentioned something that I’ve been thinking about lately. In the first class, our teacher was discussing the concept of sharing. “We are not socialists,” he said. “I don’t teach my children that they must share absolutely everything with their brothers and sisters.”

    Two years later, in a different class with different teachers, the discussion turned to sibling squabbles. There were a couple main points that I will remember forever:

    1. You likely have too many toys. Get rid of something, or a lot of somethings.
    2. Allow private property rights.

    Number one is counterintuitive, but I’ve found it to be true.

    Respecting Ownership
    Number two is interesting, when you think about it. First, there is the idea that sharing as a concept begins and ends with ownership. For instance, if I have something, and you need use of it, I let you use it, and that is sharing. If I tell you that I won’t lend it to you–let’s say I’m using it right now, or you don’t take care of things and you break them–that is my right. As an adult, you have no recourse (unless you vote socialist, but I digress).

    This actually makes for a peaceful society. When all things are held in common, there is constant battling for control over those things, which is why extreme socialism requires a lot of hierarchy and intervention.

    In the home, then, I am beginning to see the power of private property to bring about peace. In the past, I tried to eliminate ownership, thinking that it was teaching my children to share. The result was a dramatic increase in bickering, for no one had the right to say how something ought to be used or cared for.

    The vast majority of items in our home are now owned by someone. (Yes, we have some things in common, but even those things tend to belong by default to Dad and Mom.) Since I started recognizing and encouraging the children to have authority over the things they own, I have seen a dramatic decrease in squabbles.

    Let me explain.

    Before, there was a tricycle. It actually belonged to one of my girls, but because I basically ignored property rights, it was treated as if it belonged to no one. One person would ride it, and another person would be complaining that that person was riding it. Then a third person would demand their turn. And I ended up in the middle of it, trying to determine what was just.

    Well, what was just was to have respected my daughter’s right to property in the first place, but I had forgotten that.

    Now, things are a little different. The children know what items belong to which child. If they want to use it, they have to ask. If the owner wants it back, they have to return it. If they break it, they have to take responsibility for that and pay to replace it. If the owner doesn’t want to share, he doesn’t have to.

    Learning to Share
    In the beginning I used guilt to manipulate my children into sharing with each other. (Just keeping it real here.) Slowly, I realized that sometimes when they are not sharing they have very good reasons. For instance, the more likely a child is to break something, the less likely my children are to share with that child. Well, as adults we behave the same, do we not? After all, if our private property is destroyed, we cannot share it with others in the future, nor can we use it ourselves.

    The children are learning that sharing is a choice. Even Mom doesn’t have the right to make them share. In the beginning, we had more selfishness. They enjoyed the power of denying others. But now they have learned to share for real–even to offer their toys to another rather than waiting to be asked.

    Taking Care
    An added benefit has been that, in having real property, they take better care of things. On the one hand, they care better for the things that belong to them. This is true of us, also. I have found, for instance, that people are always more careful with their own money than they are with money belonging to someone else. I wrote about this years ago in Other People’s Money:

    I am reminded of early in my marriage when I was still working at Biola. I had caught something, and I was pretty miserable. But I didn’t feel like staying home, so I went to work. One of the girls in the office encouraged me to go to the doctor. I told her it cost $35 for the visit, and I just didn’t feel $35 sick. Her reply was that she and her children were always able to go to the doctor whenever they wanted to because they had Kaiser coverage and their copays were only $5.

    I probably felt $5 sick. And therein lies the point of this endless rambling. A medical appointment tends to cost a certain amount. What differs is who pays for it. When I last took A. to her pediatrician, the people checking in in front of me paid a range of $10-$20. I paid $45. Did I get better service? Did I get more service? Did the doctor make more money? The answer is “no.”

    We see this when folks with food stamps buy organic produce (and, the DHM would attest, expensive cuts of meat and seafood) while the rest of us eat ground beef and and industrial vegetables. We even see this when we are given money for birthdays or Christmas. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to go buy myself something fun with it, I’m just saying that it wouldn’t be spent the same way had I (or my husband) first earned it.
    In general, it is good to take care of things. By offering our children ownership, we offer them more encouragement to learn to care for things. We ought not to forget that Charlotte Mason says that taking care is a habit to be trained, not something that “just happens.”

    Handing Things Down
    Some items in our family began by belonging to E., and have now been handed down all the way to O. We have a tradition of transferring ownership when an item is outgrown. As I have learned to better respect property, I have also learned to make this a more formal affair. Whereas I used to confiscate clothes or toys and give them to another, now I talk with the current owner. We discuss that it has been outgrown. Then, the child gets to give it to the new owner, almost as a gift.

    Practicing for the Future
    I keep thinking about how foolish I was in my initial approach of minimizing ownership. If I am really raising adults, I need to be allowing them to practice and make mistakes here and now, in the safe place that is our home. Encouraging them to have property, to care for it, to be responsible for it, and to learn to share it from the heart, is all part of growing up. I am so grateful that we had teachers who we willing to encourage us to provide ownership for our children, to respect their private property.

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  • Reply GretchenJoanna November 3, 2010 at 4:31 am

    It was pointed out to me many years ago that even in the earliest days of the church, when “they had all things in common,” when Ananias and Sapphira kept back some of their wealth, it was not the keeping back, but the lying about it, that was their sin. The apostles said, “Was it not yours to use as you wanted?” implying that their sharing was not to be an imposed socialism, but a free decision. It can’t be called giving unless it is, and children can’t know the joy of giving unless they are free not to give.

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts November 2, 2010 at 11:32 pm

    Julia, I thought about this this morning when we read a retelling of Jean Valjean and the priest (Les Mis retelling). The priest says to himself that what was stolen really belongs to God. If you don’t mind, I’d like to try to explore this tomorrow in a new post. Thank you for bringing it up!

    For now, I’ll just say that I don’t think that private property and Christianity are mutually exclusive, as long as we define our terms and uses biblically.

    Rahime, I agree that sometimes we “force” sharing with guests. In our home, we treat dealing with each other a little differently than dealing with guests. Actually, our approach to guests was something we took from the couple who taught the first parenting class. They mentioned that they allow their children to put one or two items away before guests come over, with the understanding that everything else is to be shared. I tried this shortly after, and I learned something. The only things my children chose to put away were things they were convinced would be damaged by the sharing. My oldest, for instance, chose to put away a model that he had painstakingly built and also his guitar (he doesn’t yet own replacement strings, and the family had very small children who wouldn’t know what to do with it anyhow). I learned that their choices were based not in selfishness but in a desire to protect, and I considered it similar to the reason I put up a babygate in front of the office before company comes–no good can come from an unsupervised toddler entering the office! 🙂

    I will admit that when I changed the rules, it was a form of “shock and awe.” I gave no warning, and very little explanation. Thankfully, they adjusted well. If I were changing rules today, I’d have more respect for my older two and sit them down and explain where I thought I had been wrong, and tell them what was going to change.

    Pam, I liked what you said. I agree that we can (1) have private property and (2) know that, ultimately, everything comes from and belongs to God.

    We have common toybox toys, too. I didn’t really think about that during my writing. We also have large items that were specifically given to the children as a group–I think here of our trampoline.

    Kelly, I haven’t read Magistra Mater’s blog recently. I will have to head over there and read what she’s got…

    Thank you all for sharing your thoughts!

  • Reply Kelly November 2, 2010 at 10:56 pm

    Do you read Magistra Mater (Carol Bakker)? I think she’s the one who recommended the book The Gift of Thanks that I’m reading right now. The author spends most of the first eight chapters describing what gratitude isn’t before getting to what it is, and I’m just now in chapter nine. One of the things she points out is cultures she calls societies of The Gift (as opposed to The Market) where needs are expected to be met by the community, as a matter of duty. It’s interesting because it almost seems like socialism, but it really can’t be because it’s not something imposed on people by the authorities, other than the parents. The parents train their children to share food or whatever material blessings they receive with their siblings and cousins and other children in the village. The adults in the village say that sharing food, from a hunt for example, is a matter of survival for the whole community. They do it voluntarily, but it’s a matter of duty and of course if they didn’t do it they’d be shunned by the community.

    Anyway, I thought it was interesting noticing how differently some things are handled by different cultures.

    We handle personal property pretty much the way you’ve described here, teaching our children to acknowledge that everything ultimately belongs to God, and they are appointed stewards (coveting really means you don’t like what the Lord has decided to do with HIS STUFF, so it’s really rebellion against him). But at the same time, just because it’s your property doesn’t mean you have ultimate authority over it — you have to keep in mind why it was given you and what duty you owe to that person in the way you use it.

  • Reply Pam November 2, 2010 at 9:18 pm

    We have practiced both the private property rule, and ultimately, the “Property of God” rule. We do have things common to all…in the toybox. If it’s in there, it’s free reign, and that box is the one shared if company comes over.

    But, we also have our own things. These are in our custody. However; if it is left out (my stuff included here), then it may get ruined and it would be the owner’s fault/neglect.

    Do adults have things that are not shared? Of course. I have no right to use my neighbors mower without his permission, for instance.

    Julia brought in another important facet. If we get ANGRY that something of ‘ours’ has been used/torn/broken/lost without our permission, that’s when it’s good to remember that we only had it because God gave it. He truly owns it all. We yield our rights. We are ‘stewards’ of His blessings to us. Good post, Brandy.

  • Reply Rahime November 2, 2010 at 8:28 pm

    I like this post. It’s something I haven’t given a whole lot of thought to, but on occasion it crosses my mind. This happens especially when I am in the presence of certain nephews…one, who never has to share anything and is rather selfish, and the other who never hesitates to share, though he too is not forced to.

    I think, though, there are times when I would insist that a child share. Not necessarily with siblings, but for example with house guests. If my (imaginary) child were to have a friend over, for example, I would want him to show his friend the same hospitality I would show a guest in my home. I feel like “sharing ones toys” falls under this. I think (and, correct me if experience shows otherwise) this would go far in teaching a child to choose his friends wisely.

    The concept of personal property is hugely important though. It’s no wonder with all of the people who grew up being required to share all of their toys all the time that we vote for socialist legislation.

    Out of sheer curiosity, when you decided to change the family “rules” on this matter, how did you go about it? I.e., did you sit everyone down (who was old enough to understand the change in policy) and say, “here’s the new rule…,” or did you implement it without spelling it out. Did you make the change gradually or quickly?

  • Reply Julia November 2, 2010 at 8:01 pm

    Brandy, I would like to suggest a different perspective on private property, our family is Christian and we believe that we have been purchased by Jesus for a great price so everything we have and are, including our children belongs to Him, since we own nothing we have no private property and we try to teach our kids to respect each others boundaries- it applies to toys and space.
    i’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

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