Friday, December 15, 2017

They Often Wind Up Owning Us

I gave up on expecting our daughter to keep her room tidy when she was still quite young. My wife never really did, which, I think put us both in the company of other fine parents. It's an ages old challenge, but especially true these days when kids tend to be the proud, then not so proud, owners of a lot of toys. Some of us can summon up the serenity, or whatever, to just close the door when it bugs us, while others are unable to let it go.

Yesterday, I was talking to the father of one of my students, the parent of four children. He told me that he tried, generally speaking, to leave the children to their messes, but confessed to sometimes scolding them, which he said he almost always wound up regretting.

"I was getting after them the other day," he said, "when it hit me that I had bought them most of this stuff." As he stood amidst the debris he found himself reflecting on the fact that when he had given them those toys he had also unthinkingly given them the obligations that go with those toys. "We expect them to tidy them up, to care for them, to share them . . . A whole bunch of stuff that they didn't necessarily sign on for."

I'm sure we've all had this experience with possessions: we claim to own them, but they often wind up, in a way, owning us. I often hear this lament from boat owners and mortgage holders, for instance, but in a very real sense, everything we own places obligations upon us. The difference between us and young children is that they don't feel that sense of obligation the way we do, stuff is just stuff, so we all too often then set about scolding them into "learning" their obligations around stuff, when it could be argued that their's is a healthier approach.

I'm not telling anyone they are wrong for wanting a tidy home. I value one myself, but I think it's something worth thinking about as we head into the season during which most of us, and especially children, acquire new things in the form of gifts, toys that bring with them these hidden obligations. I tend to think that the best way to "teach" children about these obligations is to role model the behavior you value, like keeping your own spaces tidy, but the real solution is just to own less stuff, and one of the ways to do that during the holiday season is to give gifts of experiences and love rather than toys.

Books make great holiday gifts. Maybe someone you know would like their very own copy of my book!

I've just published a book! If you are interested in ordering Teacher Tom's First Book, click here. Thank you!

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