A Place To Call Your Own
Instilling Ownership in Your Child.

Growing up in a houseful of girls, (I had five sisters) my mom instilled a sense of ownership, boundaries, responsibility. I couldn’t just “borrow” my sister’s clothes. I had to ask her. No house back then was built to allow everyone a room to herself. We had to share. But Mom knew the importance of “this is mine,” even with drinking glasses. Sometime later, when she saw my boys sharing a glass a water, she questioned herself, “Was I right to instill such ownership?” Us girls would never “share” germs like that. (Maybe that was their father’s Mexican heritage vs my German or maybe that was my mom’s nursing education, I don’t know.)

Mom found a way that we all could have our alone time. We rotated who had her own room by moving occupants every month. For Mom, that ensured we all gave our rooms a thorough cleaning. For the three oldest girls, we knew we’d have a room to ourselves every three months. It worked. By the time my younger sisters “became of age,” my older sister was moving to college. I remember sharing with my youngest sister…still in a crib. It gave me the time I needed. How could a toddler bother my alone time, when she was in her room only during naps and nighttime?

When my husband and I had boys, this ownership manifested itself in other ways. They all slept with us, lined up on the floor. The baby closest to me. The toddlers on either side of my husband. Those older would fan out from there. It was comforting to see them sprawled out beside us. No bed was big enough, but we just spread blankets on the floor.

It was only after my husband returned from deployment, when I finally approached him with the need for the boys’ own space. I gave a chest to each boy to keep their own treasures (one of those large footlockers). Whatever they could fit inside, they could keep. Their personality determined how neat and organized that space was. Their interests determined what was in it. Some boys saved every scrap of junk they were allowed to have. Others selected only what meant the most to them. They had a place to put what they valued. It wasn’t threatened by little ones who hadn’t learned: “This is not mine.”

But as they grew, they needed more than just a footlocker.

My husband gave up his office so the boys could have their own “room.” Three of them shared that room. They still slept on the floor, sprawled all over each other.

By the time the next one was old enough to move into his own space, we thought the other “spare room” should be used. The three older boys already had established their domain. The fourth couldn’t be by himself, so the fifth went with him.

Our family bed went from eight to three quickly. The loss was felt by my husband and I more than by the boys. The boys were ecstatic. My husband and I wandered the house at night to check on them.

When the oldest left for college, the boys had already planned how the rooms would be rearranged. Another boy also left our side. But in the meantime, another baby had come. Now we were a bit ready for the next boy to join the others. It was easier to let go. The boys wanted to leave us earlier…and join those who slept “by themselves.” Although with the younger three there seemed more independence. One slept out in the family room all by himself.

The once office, now turned bedroom, watched each occupant leave. When the final third one left, the fourth was ready to claim his own room. He allowed one of the boys to move some of his things into his room. That allowed more room in the other bedroom for the seventh boy to move from our room. Our hole was great. They were thrilled.

When the college-bound sons returned, even for the summer, they found, their room was no longer theirs. We made room for their “privacy” in our converted garage, alias “library.”

With the introduction of ownership, I also found ways to avoid fights. Everyone had their own toothpaste. When a little brother sucked toothpaste from the tube, the older one didn’t have to share. I can sympathize. Didn’t I give my husband his own toothpaste when we got married, since he liked Colgate and I like Crest? (He didn't suck from my toothpaste, though.)

I told my husband, “I had more energy.” (I was not wake during the night nursing babies and soothing toddlers—first time in 18 years.) What a difference a night of uninterrupted sleep can make on your energy (and your disposition)!

That was when we received Michael. He was 18 months old and struggled with night terrors (those dreams they scream, yet don’t wake up.) We’ll never know what nightmares he saw—only the adrenaline rush every night when his screaming started.

I digress from my ownership theme. But I see the balance of sharing and knowing boundaries. Teaching “This is yours.” And “This is everyone’s and you must share.” Boundaries, yet responsibility.

Today, the ownership of rooms has evolved.

Another shift when one son, back from school, leaves for a time to be closer to town. His bed and desk will be available for another to take over. It won’t be empty long.

Some require reminders to take care of their things so I don't trip over them at the front door.

With each “advance” I see the personality of the younger son blossoming. I didn’t know how organized this one was…how neat. It’s encouraging, and satisfying to see them take over their new-found domain. Not with a sense of “you can’t come in” but a sense of comraderie that allows the younger ones into their space.

Maybe that’s one of those differences between boys and girls. Girls can’t have two friends. One always feels left out. There can only be one woman in charge of a kitchen. All others are relegated to helper status. But with boys…they congregate in a gaggle, yet still have a leader.

But again, I digress…ownership. Teaching responsibility through ownership. Take care of your baseball glove or you’ll be catching the ball with your bare hands. Allowing each one space to call their own.

Doesn’t God do that with nature? Birds fight over territories. Dogs mark their boundaries. Cows walk their new parameter when fenced before they settle down. Everything needs a space to call their own.

Do you long for a space as a mom that is just yours? You’ve probably taken over the house. Your husband has his side of the closet and his side of the bed, but nothing more, unless you’ve given him the basement. Is he the man of his castle? Or just relegated to his man cave?

As a mom, do you feel like you have nothing to call your own? Your time is spent, your resources go for the family, even your plate at dinner is shared with the toddler who sits on your lap?

As a girl, I would wish for the mansion God was preparing for me in heaven. When things felt rather crowded with my sisters, I knew some day I’d have a mansion of my own. I was willing to wait.

As a mom, sometimes it's hard to wait.

Now as my space returns, I realize there’s a loss with that added space. That space means a hole where someone once was. The boys have moved to their own homes. My space returns.

As I look at my space, I hope we’ve instilled in our boys what it means to take care of things and respect others’ property.
But more importantly, I hope we've taught them what is home. A place where they can always return and find space for them.

The home God is preparing for me seems much more precious. Not for the space, although I once longed for that, but for the reunion. I’ll see the Savior. And that will be home.

Displaying all 2 comments

I love these practical articles Sonya! Well done! Helen

Really enjoyed reading this, you are so right about each child's right to his own space or things, but at the same time some things are meant to share. Great teaching, thanks for sharing.

I write about what you---
women, wives and moms---
about your family, faith and future.
I write about what's hard, what helps and what heals.
I show you how it's done. And not done.
I hold your hand as you find what matters to the Savior.
And let go of those things that mattered to you, but not to Him.
I write about what Him.
               Sonya Contreras

Author of Biblical fiction, married to my best friend, and challenged by eight sons’ growing pains as I write about what matters.

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