How Kids Compartmentalize: Toys for Mom’s House, Toys for Your House


Two households, both alike in dignity. Two households, with two different sets of rules and expectations. Two households, both trying to do what’s best for the two kids who split their time between them.

They say that kids with divorced parents learn to adapt to the two different living situations in which they find themselves. Though it seems hard to believe, we have found that to be the case–at least externally. The kids know which household chores that they’re expected to do when they’re with us, which are different than the expectations at their mom’s house. Bedtimes, mealtimes, and food choices–they’re all different. They have older stepsiblings at their mom’s house, and so they enjoy access to a video game console, while we have not bought one yet. But they know those are the circumstances and they adapt.

I have recently uncovered an unexpected discrepancy between the households: toys. When we sorted through their toys this summer to make a pile to give away, Ana separated her Num Noms.

“I’m going to take these to mom’s,” she said. “These go to mom’s.”

Taken aback, I assured her she could play with them at our house. “I don’t think those came from mom’s house,” I said. “I think you got those for Christmas here.”

“No, no,” she was adamant. “Num Nums are my toy for mom’s house.”

I acquiesced but I was quiet.

And I started thinking and reflecting.

Ana has a large collection of Disney Tsum Tsums in her room at our house. I remember when she first became interested in them, we referenced something about them to Ana’s mom, but she was unfamiliar with them. Maybe those are the toy category that belongs at our house.

According to Ana’s mom, last summer Ana wouldn’t stop talking about kickball and was excited to play when school began. In contrast, we hadn’t heard a word about it from Ana; she was asking about playing basketball or soccer. Was she mentally dividing her sports participation between the two households?

When I think back on it, just before our first Christmas together, Ana’s mom shared a gift idea for something she said Ana kept talking about and just had to have. She was done shopping and shared the idea with us so that we could pursue it if we needed another gift.

We recently boxed up that pricey Disney princess castle that she “had to have”. I always thought it was strange that it didn’t get much attention from Ana; it was colorful, the right size, and Disney-magical. Almost any little girl would love to play with it, and especially one who loves Disney as much as Ana does. Now I wonder if the castle’s banishment to the closet was more about Ana’s compartmentalizing about which toys should belong in which household.

It makes sense that having separate toys for separate houses might be how kids make sense of their worlds. It may also help them stay organized, and to feel more in control. Which begs the question, how do we challenge this–or do we try? Maybe this will change on its own. Or maybe this is how it is for lots of kids. As we navigate this, we’ll continue reassure the kids that their toys are theirs, and they are welcome to play with them at home–no matter where in fair Verona that may be.


  1. I’ve never even considered this. I’d love to peek inside of that girl’s brain and see what’s going on behind the scenes…

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