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:
- You likely have too many toys. Get rid of something, or a lot of somethings.
- Allow private property rights.
Number one is counterintuitive, but I’ve found it to be true.
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.
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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