[Week 13 of 52 Weeks to a Better Relationship With Your Child]
Yours, Mine, or Ours?
If you want to discuss children’s property rights, you need to understand two basic things:
- What property rights are
- How children are different from adults
How you engage with your children regarding their property rights in the home will have a big impact on your relationship with them. As a parent you have learn to exercise your position of responsibility while still respecting your children as individuals.
Broadly speaking, property is something that someone has legitimate control over. Someone may be an individual or a group of two or more. Controlling means having legal rights to use, rent, or sell the property. I speak in terms of natural law more than governmental law, although illegitimate force is too often used to usurp true property rights. However, that is a subject for another time.
Can you explain why your body is yours?
Almost everyone agrees we all own our own bodies. At least everyone thinks they own their own body, whether or not they want to argue about someone else’s bodily rights. No one else can use their brain to tell your mouth to speak or your legs to walk. They may coerce you, but they do not have ultimate control. It is a nicely built in feature that makes self-ownership as obvious as the nose on your face.
The ownership of things and places
Everyone also has objects they call their own. From clothes to houses, it is obvious that everyone claims some things as theirs. One way or another, someone has priority, preference, decision making control over certain objects.
Everyone claims some sort of space as theirs, to one extent or another. Even in prison camps, there are many stories of guards not venturing in areas due to lice or potential violence. Certain areas are claimed by the prisoners.
Consider the common question, “Is this chair yours?” while in a restaurant? Even in a temporary and/or rented scenario, we acknowledge that being somewhere and using that space gives us a temporary right of ownership. If we bring our own chair, it gives us more ownership rights, even on someone else’s land. If we own the land, we are within our rights to ask someone to leave, but we never own their body or their things even if they are on our property.
What if property moves by itself?
There are some things on earth that it seems harder to establish ownership of, such as air or water. However, the fact that those with governmental power jealously guard those very things from citizens and other governmental powers suggests this is not so far fetched after all. If governmental groups can discuss such boundaries amongst themselves, then surely the rest of us are capable of working out these boundaries privately.
The bean is always under one of the cups
There are situations where property rights between adults takes some creative problem solving. That shouldn’t confuse the fact that property ownership in adult relationships is easily understood and intuitively applied by most people, no matter their political leanings.
Titilating slogans may try to hide that, but someone always owns things. Politics is like a shell game to keep people guessing, but confiscation of other people’s resources is the goal of nearly all government entities. They want to be able to claim ownership like the worst sort of landlord.
This is necessarily a brief discussion of property rights. Here is a primer on property rights written for you by a lawyer who specializes in property law. She also happens to be a good friend of mine and a libertarian.
If you want to delve into it further, I recommend reading some of these articles:
Everyone Has Property Rights, Whether They Know It or Not by Ilana Mercer
Property Rights and Human Rights by Murray N. Rothbard
Economics and Property Rights by Walter Williams
The Principle of Private Property by Butler Shaffer
Recognizing parental property
Children introduce different variables into the concepts of ownership. I will list a few:
- They are physically and mentally incapable of any significant self-care for a few years.
- Parents are responsible for the care of children for those same years or more.
- As a result, children live on and by the means of their parents private property.
- Children have limited incentive to respect other people’s property due to a combination of points 1-3.
- Children tend to claim things they see, touch, use, or want as theirs.
What are the usual sorts of things that children consider their’s to some degree, but are still the parent’s property?
- household supplies
Any of these types of things that are bought as part of caring for the child are under the jurisdiction of the caretaker.
Part of ownership is making hard decisions
It is when things are gifted or earned that is can be more challenging to deal with the ownership issues of children in your home. Such issues might arise because of:
- clean up/order
- interference with other priorities
- family relationships
The first 3 instances do not necessarily involve conflict. A child may easily cooperate with the parents, especially if there is already a good relationship between them.
The last 3 points suggest that conflict is already occurring. A parent may judge it best to make a decision regardless of what the child immediately prefers. How severe the solution is will likely depend on how severe the problem is.
Storage and clean up issues
If there is a storage issue, you might want to ask the child to help decide what stays in the home. If there are maintenance concerns, it may depend on whether or not those can be managed. Can they wait to buy their own batteries? Will using a personal membership require the adult to pay something regularly as well? Who is going to clean up after the puppy every day?
Clean up is one of the most common property issues within a home. The space is usually shared, but children have to learn how to be considerate of sharing it. They also need to be guided in good habits.
Having specific areas for children to have their things out can be one solution. Another can be having a specific time limit for clean up, then confiscating what is left out. I used to have a confiscation box. The children knew that 5:00 PM was an expected clean up time. They were also usually given alerts each day. Once I put something in the box, it was captive for a week. Oddly, some things were never claimed. Others were taken much better care of in the future.
The home is a uniquely social place
One of a parent’s responsibilities is to make the home a safe and comfortable place for everyone. This means that there should be certain standards for how children treat each other and the parents. If an item is interfering or influencing a child to make poor choices in this regard, a parent will often want to step in. Sometimes removing the property is the best decision.
An item of property might also be implicated in a child not fulfilling requirements. If necessary chores or pet care are not getting done because of distraction, there might need to be some degree of affect on that property. What degree might depend on what previous attempts have been made to deal with the situation.
Maintaining respect and ultimate ownership
Hopefully in any of these cases, some level of ownership can still be honored. In some extreme cases, the item might need to be sold or disposed of, depending on what it is and where the problem is happening. An ice cream cone self-purchased on a day out could not be easily saved if it needed to be confiscated. A bicycle can be easily be stored until a later date.
Property rights with self-control
The bottom line is that while children are under the care and responsibility of the parents, full rights of ownership are impractical and unwise. A loving parent will not make this a matter of manipulative control, however, he or she should feel secure in establishing guidelines for child-ownership within the home. A child old enough to own something is also old enough to understand that all of this makes sense.
One important goal of children’s property rights management by parents is that the children will learn how to balance property rights with self-control. Property rights come with responsibility that children are not totally capable of handling, nor should they be expected to. Even if there are times of tension, which there will inevitably be in any family with children, an overall calm and consistent approach to property ownership issues will result in children growing up clearly understanding why parents have the final say and have to make certain overriding decisions about property ownership in the home.
Whose fish are they?
In the photo for the title photo of this blog, I chose a picture of the kids displaying “their” fish after a fishing trip. And I think this is an interesting example to examine.
First of all, no matter who catches the fish, everyone exclaims “Oh, you got a fish, you got a fish. Let me see your fish.” But the children are almost certainly using one of the parent’s fishing poles, especially at the young age shown in the photo. The children probably did not contribute to the gas or the car to get to the fishing spot, and while this might be a good opportunity for children to learn to clean fish, they’re probably not doing it by themselves with knives of their own.
And they’re probably not doing much of the cooking. But as they sit down to enjoy their dinner that evening, they will probably still talk about eating their own fish. And no one will dispute that with them because they put in the effort at their level to procure that fish. It is their fish.
On the other hand, if the child for some reason decides “I don’t want to cook my fish, I want to put it in a bucket and just keep it in my room for a while so I can look at it.” The parent will probably want to intercede and not let that happen.
Although, depending on the situation, again, there can be some creative parenting. Maybe it’s a small enough fish, or not an expensive enough fish that you can let the child observe somewhere else, in a different place, just what happens to a fish when you let it sit around.
Hopefully this discussion will give you more confidence in dealing with property rights for your children in your home and give you some inspiration for creative problem solving.