Friday, September 01, 2006

Siblings and ownership

Lately I've been thinking a bit about our family approach to the ownership of the "stuff" the kids have and how it plays out in their relationships with each other. I didn't set out with a particular policy in mind, but I have four kids with a fair bit of "stuff" accumulated over the years, almost no sole ownership, and almost no sibling rivalry. I can't help but wonder if these things are related. Thinking back to my own childhood ... most stuff was shared, and my three siblings and I got along pretty well overall.

I also think it's important to understand that young kids' conceptualization of ownership is a very different thing from ours. For a young child, having control of something in one's own hands means owning it. I think that when we ask kids to "lend" or "share yours with her" they are really thinking "it'll be hers for a while and then it'll be mine again." And in our family, I guess we've really not got fussy debunking that fluid sense of ownership. The kids grew into children who just accepted that ascribing sole ownership, within the context of the family, wasn't really something to get one's knickers in a knot over. I've found that my kids do not use possession or ownership as a pawn in situations of rivalry -- I never hear them claiming "no, it's mine and you can't have it!" I might hear "no, I want it right now and you can't have it!" The important difference between these two is that the latter de-escalates as soon as the emotions abate because no one has claimed eternal control over the object. In the former, even once the emotions have calmed, the child still assumes the object falls under his or her control, to things could flare up again at any point. Over the years, in playgrounds and parks, on playdates and out and about, I have heard so many children using the fact of their ownership of something as a weapon against other children. It doesn't seem to happen in our family, thank goodness.

My kids have special things that they treasure, things that they refer to as "mine." These are generally things that have special meaning to each child rather than things that have value in general to all. With the many shared items of value that our family owns I prefer to encourage in the kids the value of responsible custodianship (caring for something well while it is in your possession) rather than the value of pride in ownership.

As I write this I realize that while I didn't set out with a particular policy in mind, the fact that I put more value on custodianship than on ownership has been a guiding principle.

My kids each get their own allowance. For the past three years they've chosen to pool almost all of their allowance to make joint purchases together. I guess that speaks highly of their comfort with our family tendency towards joint, rather than sole, ownership.


  1. Miranda-
    I have been on some other unschooling forums (not ivillage).
    Is it a common thing for them to fight to death over the choice of words a person uses? A person can say something totally innocent, and the expert unschooler jump down their throat about what that "really" means, kind of in a chastising way?
    Isn't that a little like school?

  2. Hmm... it may be relatively common. I've encountered it from time to time and just tend to avoid those places. I'm not particularly wedded to any particular definition or title for our homeschooling approach, which I consider to be our flavour of unschooling, so I don't really stress over that stuff.

    I agree that it's a little like school. A lot, actually. I wish there was an easy answer to the semantics issue. Unschooling is best given a sort of undefinition ... a description of what it's not. Which makes it very hard to describe what it is ... since that's defined by the child and the parent-child relationship. If only there were a better word that would take root and gain acceptance.


  3. Recently, I read on one thread on an unschooling site that one was wrong for using flylady methods in her home, because flylady was "not an unschooler".
    I just laughed...

  4. I think you're on to something Miranda. My two never had sibling rivalry when they were younger, but the last year and a half it's been something ferce. I think It started about the time we got Avery a trampoline for her birthday. It was really for them to both enjoy but Avery started using it as leverage. Then Liam made his own money busking and bought himself a unicycle. Well, Of couse Avery couldn't use it because now it was him in control. Now it's played into such things as who gets the front seat and so on. So how do we stop this now that it's started? It is driving me nuts. Sorry this is so long.

  5. I don't know. My DD is extremely possessive about many things. It seems to be part of her personality. We never forced her to share things that were special to her, but she did have to take turns with group items, or toys that no sibling had ownership over. It's been a long slow journey. Reading your post made me question, at first, whether I was wrong to approach it this way. But honestly, forcing her to share would have been very traumatic and explosive, a real power struggle wherein I would have had to exert force in the matter. Perhaps you are just fortunate that none of your kids have this personality trait. Doesn't sound like you had to exert control over them to get them this way. Still, you give food for thought.


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