Cleaning up around my daughters’ dollhouse today, I came across a lot
of altered doll clothing. It made me smile to see how creative they
had been. It also made me think back to a struggle I had when my
oldest first started ‘destroying’ her toys.
I didn’t realize that allowing my children ownership of their own toys
was an issue for me until I found my oldest daughter shampooing her
huge stuffed duck because it was dirty (to be fair, she *had* dragged
it out with her when we did chores, so it really was dirty).
I had all sorts of thoughts scream through my head. “That
cost so much!” (It only cost $10.) “We’ve owned that since you were
born!” (She was two years old so it wasn’t exactly heirloom age – or
quality.) “You’ve got to learn to take care of your stuff.” (At two
years old, the thought is less about ‘taking care of’ and more about
‘making use of’, but I hadn’t learned that yet.) I thought all of
those things and more and I said a few of them too.
She just blinked at me, obviously trying to compute the conflicting
information I was giving her. Not just “You are not allowed to do what
you want to with your own things.” but also “You need to take care of
your things and that does not mean cleaning your duck when it gets
dirty.” Mighty confusing. Then she went back to washing her duck and I
went and got the camera and then helped her shampoo and rinse.
As I helped her clean, I thought about what had just happened. It
would have been so easy to stick to that line of thought, to take away
the duck because she was ‘ruining it’ but because of the way I’d been
raised my parenting philosophy can be roughly summed up as ‘question
everything’. The process went something like this:
1. Are they her toys? Or are they my toys that I let her play with as
long as I approve of the play and treatment of them.
2. Is the cost of those toys worth more than the creativity she gains
by experimenting with them as she wants to?
3. If I let her do this will she destroy all of her toys? What exactly
do I mean by ‘destroy’?
4. If I let her do this will she grow up to be someone who doesn’t
respect anyone’s property?
The answers I came away with – and the answers that I’ve added as more
children have been added to the mix – led me to immediately become
more appreciative of her creative process and more generous with my
resources (i.e. really letting go of the money that I spent on the
toys). Here’s what I decided.
1. There are toys that are her toys. These are not mine. I don’t have
a say in how she plays with or alters them. She does clean up the
results of her altering. Like lots of hair laying around.
There are toys that are the family’s toys. No altering of these unless
everybody agrees. Sometimes everybody does, sometimes not. Like the
Christmas morning that I watched gleefully as Hannah ran in and out
of the new teepee I’d built them.
Ains got inside of it once and then couldn’t find the
door again. I was focused on something else for just long enough for
Hannah to get the scissors and cut two new doors in different sides
of the teepee for her sister. I had to walk out of the room. After
that we had our ‘family toys’ talk.
There are toys that are sibling’s toys. No altering of these unless
the sibling agrees and I stay involved in these negotiations until I’m
confident in the younger sibling’s comprehension of the results of the
actions. For example, Ainsley has experimented with cutting her doll’s
and pony’s hair but has decided she doesn’t like it. Hannah can’t
leave hers alone and they’re constantly getting updated – and shorter.
(There are pictures in this
post of doll haircuts.) Look at the picture below – it’s easy to
tell which are Hannah’s and which are Ainsley’s.
There are toys that were Mother’s or Daddy’s when they
were little and are only played with when we’re right there and are
not to be altered.
2. When I buy my children a toy now, I mentally let go of any and all
thoughts of ‘cost’ of that toy. If I can’t, then I need to just be
honest with myself and buy the toy for me and not them and that
thought usually snaps me out of that. I admit that this was the
hardest step for me, but one of the most rewarding as it forced me to
face and hold up to the light lessons learned in childhood about money
This horse cost $12. When Hannah went after it with her scissors, I
breathed deep, confronted the thoughts coming from my childhood (so
expensive, we don’t have much money, she’s *destroying* it), and
looked at the situation through her eyes. That made me go grab the
camera and photograph her doing what she loves best.
And the creativity they get from experimenting? *So*
worth it. It’s not as easy to see in pony haircuts, a bit easier to
see in doll haircuts, and very easy to see in doll clothes
alterations. Like these –
(I wish I could take
pictures of *all* of them, but 3/4 of the clothes and all but one of
the dolls must have taken off to Vegas because I can’t find them
anywhere right now.)
What you don’t see the creativity? 😉
The doll clothes are rubber and they started out really cute (like this)
but then they got boring (happens to the best of us, even with full
closets) and the alterations began.
At first it was just cutting them at the waist and mix and matching
skirts and tops. Then it was shortening skirts. Then – and this is, in
my mind, the crowning creative achievement – one of the dolls got a
pair of chaps made out of her skirt.
I think it’s brilliant. But I’m the mom.
The last two questions seem so strange to me now because they were
completely based in fear and I’m so used to reevaluating fear-based
questions now, but I’ll take a stab at them anyway.
3. She won’t destroy all of her toys. She *will* feel free to alter
them and won’t ask permission to do that but will instead come and
proudly show me the results. She *will* accidentally destroy some in
her desire to create and that will make her – and sometimes you – very
sad but it will also be such a good lesson, not just in how temporary
some things are but in what worked and what not to (or to) try next
time. Because you know there will be a next time.
And ‘destroy’ now means ‘destroy’ to me. Not shorter hair, not wings
stapled onto stuffed snakes, not even marker-faced babies that look
like they belong on the Island of Misfit Toys.
It means ‘the only place left for this toy is the trash’.
4. The jury’s still out on this one, obviously. My oldest is only six.
But she’s a six-year-old who respects other kid’s toys, other people’s
property and has learned the difference between *her* property,
communal property, and other people’s property and appropriate
behavior for those different categories.
So that’s how we handle not just toys, but ideas of ownership and
self-regulation at our house. As I let go of my own rigid
expectations, there were fewer little pointless battles in my
relationships with my children and I have seen my oldest blossom as
she’s accepted responsibility for her own things while my younger two,
well, they just take it for granted – it’s always been that way for
And we do have the hippest dolls on the block.
My six-year-old tells me so.
You can read more from Sarah at The Napping House.