Ever since I was young, I’ve been proud of how unmaterialistic I am. I’ve often claimed that I’d rather give gifts than get them and, in fact, that I don’t like getting gifts very much. This struck me as being a bit strange. Doesn’t everyone like getting gifts? It’s as I learn more about Youth Rights that I realized where this hang-up, along with many others, came from.
As a child, just like everyone else, literally every single thing I owned was a gift. My clothes, my food, my house, my toys, my school supplies, whatever pocket change I had, my hairstyle. All were gifts. I was taught very young that when you give a gift to someone, it is theirs forever and it is the height of rudeness and insult to take it back. So I never did. I was also thought that it was the height of rudeness to refuse a gift. So I never did.
My custodians, however, did not feel the need to adhere to the first rule. Anything I had could at any time be taken away because I was disobedient, thrown away without my consent because it was “old” or donated without my permission because “you don’t use it anymore” or “you’re too old to keep this”. Furthermore, I was expected to show gratitude every day of my life for every single gift I ever got, even the ones I hadn’t wanted in the first place. If I was ever angry or upset, I’d hear “after all I’ve done for you, I feed you, I house you, I gave you XYZ” as if in accepting those gifts that it would have been rude to refuse anyways, I’d signed some kind of contract claiming I’d never get mad at the gift-giver ever and owed them my unwavering adoration, my soul, and my future.
Needless to say, I quickly learned to divest myself of any and all kind of material attachment. I cared for nothing. As few objects as possible were given names or affection. I didn’t cherish my objects and took no particular pains to keep them clean or undamaged because it was clear to me that if I didn’t care, it wouldn’t hurt if/when it was taken away, or hidden from me, or destroyed.
What few objects I cherished, I either carried with me everywhere in an obsessive manner or hid whenever they weren’t on my person. I had one toy I adored and that toy was my teddy-bear. I used to have nightmares that the bear would go up in flames as soon as it left my eyesight, that it would be bear-napped or that it would die. It was the only object I truly loved – I have it to this day – and even though I protected it as best as I could, it wasn’t safe from harm. It was often taken from me against my will to be used as a pillow for the adults during car rides or punched, kicked, thrown or otherwise injured in front of me as a “joke” or to mock me.
As soon as I began earning income of my own, I became a pack-rat. I collected items and to this day have difficulty throwing away anything I’ve bought because it is mine. I still hate getting gifts because accepting them feels like accepting that the person who gave them can, at any time, hold them hostage or punish me or throw the debt back in my face.
That’s what made me realize that, as a child, I never got a gift from the people who called themselves my “parents” while acting like nothing more than my custodians. Ever. Instead, I got loans, on which I paid an absurdly high interest in the shape of obedience and gratitude. Despite my best efforts, I never managed to get near to paying off the capital and I never would have. Everything they gave me was called a “gift”, but they, not I, owned the items given and I owed them for letting me use them. The items could be repossessed at any time so I learned that it was best not to get attached.
That’s cruel. I honestly think it is cruel to give gifts and then take them away, claiming you own them because you paid for them. I wish my custodians had been honest and told me “I bought this item so I own it and am lending it to you” because if they’d made it clear that every single thing I ever received from them – from food to healthcare to clothes – was a loan, I’d have refused to accept as much of it as I could. I’d have begun working earlier. I’d have paid my own way sooner. I’d have rejected every single Christmas and birthday parcel and never asked for anything, ever. I would not have accrued a debt that made me feel as if I had to shut up and accept abuse because “after all we’ve done for you”, I owed my custodians my submission.
They called those things “gifts”, which means a thing freely given out of love. They called housing and feeding me their “duty”, which means an action freely done out of responsibility. They never called them loans, even though that is exactly what they were. When you give someone an item you own and control and can and do repossess at will, you are not giving them a gift, nor doing your duty by them. You are giving them a loan and it is massively unfair call it otherwise, to fail to tell them what the interest rate will be so they know to refuse it if the cost is too high.
I ended up escaping my custodians’ demand for reimbursement on a technicality. One day, they pulled out the old “after all we’ve done for you, after all we’ve given you, YOU OWE US” card. And, in a fit of brilliance, I retorted: “No. I don’t. You called those things GIFTS. You never once said they were loans. You never told me I would have to pay them back because if you had, I wouldn’t have accepted any of it. I can’t be held as agreeing to a contract I didn’t sign. I owe you nothing.”
They called me an ingrate. “Ingrate” is what parents call children who point out that they can’t be expected to pay interest on a present, or on care given to them out of charity. What many people fail to realize is that parenting is very much so a charitable donation of years of one’s life gifted to another human being. It’s not an investment. It’s not a loan. Children don’t owe their parents some kind of emotional salary for taking care of them because no one is forcing people to become parents. All parents are volunteers.
I should have been able to enjoy getting presents because once I got a gift, it should have been mine. Giving oneself the right to “confiscate” a present means the gift was a loan, and should have been presented as such when it was given.
This is why I firmly believe that children who get enraged when their possessions are thrown out without their consent are right to do so. ANYONE would get enraged if another person gave them a gift, then took it away or threw it out. Children who hide, or cling to or get possessive or overprotective of their possessions are also very right to do so because ANYONE would get paranoid and insecure and bitter if their belongings could be stolen – I mean “confiscated” – at anytime if they were deemed to be behaving badly.
Ownership of one’s objects shouldn’t be dependant on one’s behaviour or degree of obedience. Misbehaving shouldn’t mean losing one’s property. Children should have the right to own their own property, even if said property is comprised of nothing but the gifts they have received from charitable adults in possession of actual paychecks. Especially then.