We all enter our relationships with “things.” It is inevitable that we will bring something special with us into our homes together. As babies arrive on the scene we want to include them in the “specialness” of these family heirlooms, but like any other child, they couldn’t care less. So how do we teach our child respect for an inanimate object? They don’t have to love it right? But they do have to respect it and give it enough space to protect it.
I was raised by an antique dealer. According to my siblings and I, we were raised in a museum. Some of my father’s tactics worked beautifully, others not so much. As someone who was raised to respect everything inanimate, I have obviously brought into my marriage a plethora of antiques and “special” items that my family continues to grow around. Here is how I manage the chaos and collectibles.
Start Them Young
We have three little boys. Rough, rowdy, loud, wall-climbing little boys. Our belongings take quite a beating from them, but the only things that have been broken have been broken by movers. When each child is around age two, I begin schooling them on gentleness. A simple enough concept in regards to the family pet, but I am also teaching them to be gentle with the glass doors of my antique wardrobe. As the kids get older we begin to expose them to the craftsmanship that goes into making such treasures. At a farmers market one summer we watched a blacksmith craft in traditional fashion. Our oldest son, who was then 4, was fascinated. The blacksmith talked to him about how many hours went into making the items that were for sale.
When we got home our son stared at an antique Swedish immigrant chest that I had acquired that year from my father. The trunk is covered in hand hammered ironwork with intricate puzzle locks. After some contemplation he asked “mom, how long do you think it took to make your trunk?” My heart swelled. This was THE learning moment. We came up with a number we thought was reasonable based on how long it took the blacksmith to make his wares.
When the conversation was over our 4-year-old had a whole new respect for that trunk. The amount of work that went into making it, the journeys it had made, the skill it took to create it, the cost of something so grand to a family hundreds of years ago. You could see his gears turning. He understood. From that day onward he understood why it was so important not to stand on it, not to throw the lid open, etc.
Creating Habits of Care
Of course, the conversations did not stop there. I tried to not nag the family constantly, but over time rules were put in place about ball throwing in the house, not touching mommy’s red lamp. Life goes on, but some wonderful things happened as well. Our boys learned to care for things. They learned to oil wood, to dust and clean mirrors, and maybe best of all to detail a vehicle. Now at ages 6, 5 and 2 when I say “that is not how we treat our things” the lectures do not have to take place. They know the right way to care for it, they know exactly what they did that was inappropriate, they understand and it’s not because mommy dictates so, but because of a respect for the piece.
Of course, this approach to care can be directed at anything that you deem important to you. If your collectible of choice is breakable you might not want the kids to help you care for it and that’s ok! Eventually, you’ll teach them to dust it and maybe you’ll take them to a pottery class, or the manufacturer museum, etc. There are numerous ways to include your children. What we don’t want is for your child to feel like Ferdinand in the china shop. Teach them to care for it and it could live on forever.
Persistence and Teaching are Key
There is no reason why you shouldn’t have nice things and children! I don’t suggest a new and expensive couch as the things that bear the most physical weight typically fall apart the fastest. If you enjoy beautiful things then you can teach your children too as well. Now that our boys are a bit older my father (woodworking magician) can show them how to repair and refinish the antiques in our lives. Teaching them more about the craftsmanship and difficulty of the work will continue to embed deep respect for the object.
If you do not personally know someone who works with these specific mediums do not fret. There are local people everywhere who would love to apprentice a younger generation in the ways of the past. With any luck, we can all raise respectful children that care for family heirlooms for generations to come.