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The Freedom Advisor

Dear Freedom Advisor,

What's a good age for beginning to teach children about freedom? And how do you deal with stuff like property rights and sharing toys when you have more than one kid?


Sovereign Parent, Kalifornia

Dear Sovereign Parent,

Wow, what a great--and involved--question! We could write a whole book on this subject (Don Lobo has started on this, actually). But we don't have the time for that right now, so let's cut to the heart of these two issues.

The best age for beginning to teach a child about freedom is as soon as he or she is born. While children are natural anarchists, most parents begin to try to bend the child to their will--feeding schedules, sleeping through the night, and more--from birth on. Instead, begin by respecting your infant's personhood from birth, allowing him or her to feed on demand, sleep when tired, and so forth. That may sound radical, but think about it this way: the more you allow what's convenient for other people--including you--to influence what your baby does now, the more damage you'll need to undo later on. And, what with all the damaging ideas heaped on most kids by government schools (even private schools, in some ways), popular music, and our collectivist culture in general, you'll most likely have your hands full enough with that as it is.

Now, we can hear the objections already, so allow us a few tangents to address them, because this is an important point to understand.

This does not mean that the baby (or by extrapolation, the toddler/child/adolescent that the baby will become) dictates everyone else's life. Your baby needs guidance, support, and love from you--but what he or she does not need is your will, or anyone else's, imposed on his or hers. Of course it's appropriate to keep some things from your baby's reach, for example, but instead of just taking an item away, it's better to explain why the thing isn't a good toy (it's dangerous, fragile, someone else's property, etc.), and offer the child a substitute. Babies are curious about virtually everything, and something new will almost always interest them more than what they have in hand. They're also very receptive and responsive to what's going on around them. Instead of grabbing the baby and changing her diaper without a word, how about respecting her body and telling her what you're going to do in a calm, loving voice? Doing so sends the message that she's important, and her cooperation when older is much more likely. When the baby is around six months old, it's appropriate to begin saying no and registering displeasure by your tone of voice, thereby communicating the idea that some things are not okay, without violating your baby's personhood.

There's a big difference between bending a child's will to yours and helping your child become a civilized human being, too. Learning to regulate her own food intake is important--submitting to an every-two-hour feeding schedule irrespective of what her body needs is not. Sure, sometimes the line here can be a little blurry--what can seem like appropriate socialization may really be how the parent wants the child to be, and it may sometimes seem that bending the child's will to yours is the only way for appropriate socialization to happen. That's why it's very important to keep the long-term goal--a rational, freethinking, sovereign individual--in mind at all times. If the method seems counter to that result, perhaps a little creativity will yield a more rights-respecting solution to the dilemma.

Until your baby is old enough to begin asserting her natural desire to have her person and property respected, she needs an advocate to do that on her behalf, and to teach her how to do it appropriately herself. There's no better person to do this vitally important task than a loving, rights-respecting parent. Babies begin to learn from birth--it's virtually impossible to overstate how receptive they are to the environment around them--so the parents need to keep this in mind and do their best to be good role models for their children, at all ages.

As far as specifics go, well, babies are so different in their development that it's difficult to give guidelines. When your child is preverbal, interact with him as you would another rational human being, and be sure to talk to him about what's going on. Once he can talk, you can accelerate the learning, by talking about issues and ideas, and answering any questions he may have. It's been our experience that children of all ages respond very well to being listened to and treated with respect. This isn't to say that challenges and problems are necessarily easy to resolve. However, it'll be much easier to communicate with your child, and your child will likely be reasonable about things, because you've been reasonable with him or her. For example, we've talked to our two-year-old son about laws and government interference into people's lives in terms of "busybodies", which he understands and has become very good at recognizing.

Now, on your other question--dealing with sharing and property rights issues when you've more than one child. Again, having the issue of property and property rights clearly established from the youngster's earliest memory will help in heading off many potential difficulties. Your child will understand--will grok--what property rights are, and even though he may not like the implications at times, will be more likely to accept that others don't want their property touched.

Talking about property, even before it seems your child can fully understand, is the foundation. Distinguishing your body from your child's, perhaps while playing in the bathtub, is a good beginning. You can point out how your child can control her body, but not yours, and that that's how it should be. From there you can begin to talk about other property, such as her favorite toys, or your office equipment, and generalize the concept. Asking permission to enter your child's room is a very powerful demonstration of respecting her property. Requesting--and expecting, with appropriate consequences if it doesn't happen--that the child respect your property rights is also crucial.

When you have two or more children, a conclusion that many people seem to implicitly accept is that since they'll need to learn to share at some point, forcing them to share certain toys or other property is not a bad thing. But that's the same as using force to achieve any other goal you might want, and no matter how good the goal, the means are counterproductive. It's particularly bad for encouraging sharing, for the same reason that "mandatory volunteering" doesn't work. So, instead, try to limit the number of toys and other items that are shared property. Insist that both children respect the other's property rights over toys, rooms, etc. The older child will most likely want the younger one not to touch his or her toys, but will want to play with the younger child's toys--you must consistently, yet gently deal with this, so that the child understands that property rights work both ways. When the younger child grabs the older one's toys without permission, say something like, "That's your brother's property, and he doesn't want you to play with it right now", and offer another item to interest the child.

The key here is that it is very easy for a child to grasp the concept of "mine". If that's reinforced instead of fought, it's fairly simple for them to grasp the corollary concept of "yours". A child whose property rights are respected is not only more likely to respect those of others, she or he is actually more likely to share because there's less fear that her or his toys will be taken away, lost, etc. Kids who are confident in their property rights can be amazingly generous.

In our house, we have rooms for each child, so they have a place that's theirs, and in the family room is a box of toys that the children have agreed are okay to be shared. When one child is playing with one of these toys and the other one wants it, we don't allow it to be taken away from the child, even if it is the other child's property. Instead, we encourage the child to wait until the other child is finished playing with the toy. This practice also encourages turn-taking, another good skill to learn. If a child decides she doesn't want to share a toy any more, then we encourage her to take it to her room, where it can't be gotten without her permission.

As the children get older, they will begin to share more and more. Without being melodramatic about it, encourage it by saying something like, "That's very nice, sharing your toys with your sister!", or talking about how fun it can be to play together with toys. Calling your child's attention to the pleasure he or she gets from sharing makes it more likely he or she will do it again, because it's in his or her self-interest.

For toys or situations that involve shared property or public living space, working with all parties involved to create a set of "use rules" is a good idea. For example, playing computer games on my computer can only happen when I'm not using it, and each child gets a turn of half an hour. If a child wants to watch a video and another person wants to listen to the stereo in the family room, we negotiate an agreement that's acceptable to both of them for the use of the common area. (The details aren't particularly important, as long as the agreement is rights-respecting for all involved.) In our house, "quiet time" begins at 9 p.m., meaning that TV, videos, or video games can be used as long as it's done quietly; if a child gets too loud, we withdraw our permission for the child to use our electricity and/or equipment.

Shared toys can present challenges, but none are insurmountable if you can be creative. Perhaps the toy can take turns rooming with the children, for example. If someone wants to make a permanent change to the toy (say, cut off part of it or paint it or somesuch), the change must be acceptable to all others who share ownership of the toy. When the invariable dispute arises over a shared toy, our solution has been to bring the toy into our bedroom (so that nothing can happen to the toy while the dispute is being resolved) and encourage the disputants to reach an acceptable agreement. We try to encourage them to work through this process on their own, but will help if desired, or if it seems they're having difficulty working something out.

It's an amazing thing to witness a newborn progress from little more than a cute "gastronomic tube" to an inquisitive baby, to a confident, happy young person. It's even more rewarding when the child is respected for the unique individual she or he is, and is taught the fundamentals of freedom and responsibility. We hope these comments help you in this journey, and wish you much success with your children.

Dear Advisor,

I'm married to a wonderful man and we have two children. My husband homeschools the kids (he's disabled, but we don't take Social Security) and I work as a corporate drone in computers. My lifelong goal has always been the self-reliant little homestead in the middle of nowhere. Since becoming aware of personal freedom, I've modified my dream to include working for myself with very little income (in essence, "shrugging").

This is the cause of our conflict. My husband likes comfort...a lot. While he has no problem with a homestead in the middle of nowhere, it darn well better be 160 acres and have satellite TV and dual generators, and the house should be about 3000 sq ft, with a full basement and a high-end masonry woodstove. We'll raise a few hundred cattle, and we'll need a ($50,000) one-ton pickup (new - so it's under warranty) with a good trailer and...

You get the idea. I've tried to explain to him that I can't earn the kind of money he's talking about without being an employee somewhere, but he doesn't understand. "We NEED this!" he insists. I get so frustrated with the fact that although he's not working, he has no problem condemning me to a life of corporate servitude to keep him in new vehicles and "West Wing".

He's a Boomer who was part and parcel of the whole 60's revolution, lived in tents, fought the system, etc. But like George Orwell's hero in 1984, he finally gave up and just wants to spend his remaining years in comfort. "I've done this before," he tells me, "and it's not all it's cracked up to be." He's 20 years older than me and in poor health.

What do I do? I love my husband, but I want to live my own life as well!


Hello Ellen,

You sure seem to be in a frustrating place, trying to mesh your goals of personal freedom and self-reliance with your husband's desires for comfort. While we can't answer your specific question "What do I do?", we'll do our best to help you create pathways to get to an answer that works for you.

First, what is most important to you? Is it realizing your own personal goals and dreams, or keeping your family intact? That's a blunt question, we know, but it may come down to making exactly that choice. If you can face that choice square on, having that knowledge will serve you well in the challenges you'll probably encounter.

On your husband and his love of comfort... do you know where that's coming from? Is it because he went without for so long, or perhaps because of his disability? Does he physically need a certain level of "conveniences" because of his disability? If so, that might be feeding a psychological dependency on comfort. Have you tried extending his comfort zone a little at a time, say, spending a weekend camping, to see how he tolerates that? If you haven't, that could be illuminating, for both of you. Many disabled people settle into a level of activity below what they could be doing, just because it's easier and more comfortable (and avoiding pain is something most people will work very hard at). If they're challenged, but with few risks associated with the challenge, it can be amazing to see just how much they can handle.

Does your husband grok how important your goal of self-reliance is? Perhaps if he understood exactly how much it means to you, he'd be more willing to come along on the adventure with you... or not. It's a sad fact that many people will, without a second thought, trade freedom for comfort. We don't mean that you ought to give him an ultimatum, but if it's important enough to you that you'd leave your marriage in order to be free, he needs to understand that.

Have you been talking about this idea so far, or have you been working to make your goal of personal freedom happen? If it's been just talk, then it shouldn't be too surprising that he seems uncooperative. After all, lots of people talk, but few follow through. Perhaps if you begin taking steps to make your goal happen, your husband will realize that you are serious, and will re-evaluate his priorities. If your husband sees your excitement and willingness to work hard to accomplish something, maybe he'll get excited and try to stretch his wings a bit too.

Your choice of words toward the end is interesting; you said, "he has no problem condemning me to a life of corporate servitude..." Specifically, the verb "condemn" got our attention. That's a very strong word, which signals just how unhappy you are at the prospect of continuing what you're currently doing. But it also suggests that you're letting him have a lot of power and control over the situation--he's decreed how it's going to be and you've chosen to go along with that. Is that an accurate picture? If so, it will likely take a long time and a lot of effort on your part, as well as his, to change that pattern.

Looking at the situation from another perspective, your problem could be eliminated by "tincture of time"... with your husband in poor health and significantly older than you, the odds are that he'll die before you, and you can live your "second life" in the way you want. There's no guarantee that'll happen, and if you were to choose this course of action it might be difficult to remain happy with the current situation while waiting for things to happen... not to mention how such a choice could take its toll on your relationship with your husband. But, if you really don't want to end the marriage, and you aren't willing to make the kinds of changes needed to try to get your husband on board with your goals, this might be where you end up.

Is it possible you and he can agree on some solution that gives each of you some of what you want? A truly self-reliant homestead is lots of work, and while it does give you lots of freedom, the work ties you down in different ways. Many people who try this route scale back in some way; some give up and drop back in to the system. Maybe you can test-run some of your more important self-sufficiency ideas (alternative power, heat, etc.) in your current situation. If they work, and he sees that they can be implemented without a big loss in his comfort, perhaps your husband will be willing to give a little in some areas. Relatedly, have you tried some of your ideas for alternative income streams? Perhaps with a little creative thought and effort, you can create a decent-sized income stream that is off the books (or mostly so), and he can enjoy more of his comforts than you're thinking. Would that be acceptable to you?

Before too much else happens, it's a very good idea to sit down with your husband and try to communicate your thoughts, feelings, and desires to him as clearly as possible on all the issues that surround your differences. That includes sharing your view of his thoughts and feelings so far with respect to your goals--maybe he doesn't realize how negative he's sounding. Only after you each are sure you understand what you want, and what the other's goals are, can you begin to think about the course of action that's best for you. We hope that it's one with your Sweetie, but if it doesn't work out that way, we hope that maximizing your personal freedom more than compensates for the loss of his company. Each of us has been in that unhappy spot, and chose the path that maximized our freedom. We haven't regretted it one bit. Best wishes to you and your family.

(c) 2001


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