WOW. So I wasn’t expecting THAT!
Yesterday I wrote a post, Could adultism be the concept that transforms relationships between adults and children?
And it appears I left many readers behind. Across Twitter, in the comments, and on Facebook, people were just like “Wha-at?!” People didn’t get it.
I thought it was going to be one of those “lightbulb” posts – where readers go “Aha! Yes! We must extend our love of fairness to our children!” If anything it was a post that threw people into darkness.
And then, this morning I remembered how I felt when I first read about these ideas. The idea that a child should be respected, allowed autonomy, choice and rights. I can remember being at a party and describing to my friend “I feel nervous… like I am entering a rabbit hole!” I felt like this idea would change our whole life.
And in some ways it has. And in some ways it hasn’t.
I wonder if it will be helpful to go through an average day of ours. To show how we try and interact and respond in certain circumstances. Because I am not sure our day will look entirely different to yours. (Or maybe it will.) The biggest difference is probably the amount of dialogue and the amount of time afforded it.
So here it is, A day in the life of a rights-respecting/ uschooling/ adultism aware family!
Before we begin I need to say how NEW I am to all of this, months in, really. And I still have a real struggle with some areas – I default on control, for example, when it comes to TV. However, I am learning, with my children… It is slow but everyday we are asking questions and discussing and granting more freedom…
7:30 am We wake up, bundle together for morning cuddles.
7:40 am “Can I watch a movie?” Ramona’s request comes earlier than normal as she has spied me sneaking away to check my blog comments. So often she is prompted to watch movies only when spotting the lap top and ipad. I am reminded how one of the crucial ideas for this whole thing is MODELLING our values. If I want her to value life away from a screen I need to model it. But then, it kind of IS my job and passion. But then it is HER passion. But what about how manipulative movies are, how they lump emotions on to people, how they are like the ultimate school. But Ramona might become the queen of code and write world-changing programs one day! And thus begins my first internal monologue about control…
8:00 am The battery on the ipad runs out after only 20 mins of movie watching. Ramona suggests she watches it once it has charged again. (Having only solar energy imposes natural limits that Ramona finds really easy to accept.)
The morning passes in porridge eating, bumbling about.
11:00 am I had been working on the lap top while Juno (1) has a snooze but I know Ramona and Tim will be back from a trip soon so I pack up and head outside to the mandarin orchard. If I want my children to love the outdoors then I need to improve my relationship with it. When they get home Ramona joins me and Juno and we eat mandarins and follow beetles and play Doctors and Nurses for aaaages.
At one stage Ramona looks through the window of our neighbour’s house (neighbours but they are also like family) and wants to go in. “I don’t think we should go in as they are not there and we need to be invited in.” I say. Ramona replies “But I can see the thing!” She dashes through their door and dashes straight back out with a toy she bought Juno from the charity shop. I consider how I would have gone in their house if there was something in there of mine that I needed and I am glad I didn’t “put my foot down!”
This kind of thing happens a fair bit. It seems a child has an irrational/ strange need or request but actually there is something important behind it, if we listen, or give them space to explore it.
12:00 pm – “I am a bit hungry shall we go in for lunch?” I ask. We start making our way to the house. I am glad I pre-empted my massive hunger pangs as this takes ages. Juno is learning to walk and wants to walk/ fall/ scramble/ crawl the whole way. It is really muddy and she is bare legged but I think she can have a bath in a bit so who cares. Juno pauses by the strawberry patch and reaches for an unripe strawberry. I find her a big juicy red one and pass it to her. (“I know all about ripe strawberries! Let me teach you!”) She takes a bite and discards it, reaching for another greenish- red one, enjoying it much more. It is like she is telling me that it is the foraging and eating that she enjoys and she knows what she likes, right?! We hang about the strawberry patch for a while.
12:45 pm Ramona want eggs for lunch so I crack them in a bowl. She wants to help so I set her up with the whisk and she whisks them. She loves to help so I make room as much as possible for that in our day. She wants to cook them but I like my scrambled eggs cooked a certain way so I explain that I want to do it my way. (I’m not some kind of unschooling goddess, okay? I like my eggs creamy.)
Over lunch she wants to put her eggs in a tortilla so she does. She makes a messy egg tortilla present all over her bit of the table. She only eats half the tortilla and the chooks get the rest.
We have always been trusting and nonplussed about eating. I want every meal to be only pleasure for everyone, so no rules or coercion allowed! Just lots of yummy goodness and a nice bit of fried stuff too.
1:15 pm I have to head to town before 2pm so I start preparing the way! TIME is one of the biggest factors in addressing adultism, I think. We are so unprepared to give our children the time to choose their clothes, put their own shoes on, pack their rucksack, find a snack, climb into their car seat themselves (etc) that we do it all for them in order to get to the place we need to be on time. And all the while we are undermining their abilities and their desires to pick up the caterpillar they saw on the way to the car. Allowing a buffer of about 45 minutes means we can all get our needs met.
Me to Ramona: “Oh, you want to bring turtle?”
Me to Ramona: “Oh, you forgot pony, huh? Better grab him!”
Me to Juno: “Ah, you’re not ready to get in your seat yet?”
Me to Ramona: “Oh, those shoes are uncomfortable. Do you want me to grab your wellies?”
Me to both: “Oops, wait there a sec, forgot my wallet.”
(Sometimes I feel we impose higher expectations on our kids than ourselves!!)
1:50 pm We are driving into town and I am thinking about all getting our needs met. Once again I turn to Non Violent Communication. NVC works perfectly with this parenting philosophy as, sure, Ramona has needs and wants that must be respected- but so does Juno and so do I and so does my husband. If it ever came to it, would we all stay home for the day so that my daughter could watch television? No. But then it has never come to it – we are nearly always able to come up with a solution together for getting all of our needs met. Ramona will often say “I’ll pause this and watch it later, yeah?”
2:00 pm Uh oh. I am in the gift shop buying a card for a new baby where there are a million precious things all balanced precariously on low shelves and Ramona wants to touch them all. I bend down and talk about how precious everything is and how I want everything in the shop to stay safe. Ramona gets more wild and wants to run around. It is in perfect syncronisation with my increased anxiety! I hold her hand firmly and we leave the shop while I explain to her about my worries. In hindsight, I wish I hadn’t done this. I wish I had talked to her sensibly before going in. Perhaps I wish I hadn’t even gone in. I guess I do sort of believe that I should only go to places where Ramona can be fully, uncompromisingly herself. More questions….!
Later on, I apologise to Ramona for pulling her out of the shop. “It IS your body, and no one should do things to other people’s bodies that aren’t wanted. I’m sorry.” Sometimes I make mistakes and instead of brushing them under the carpet (“she’s only three! She will forget!”) I apologise.
3:00 pm A cup of tea with a friend in a cafe. Juno wants to climb this wobbly thing. I kneel while she does it. After 10 minutes she does actually tumble off. It isn’t far but I consider the phrase “Better a broken bone than a broken spirit.” But I’m also blushing as I think most mums wouldn’t have let their baby climb. Mostly I try and keep an environment that is fully open to Juno to explore but sometimes you can’t. Sometimes I take swift action if it seems like something quite dangerous. For example the time she ate some berries and I didn’t know what they were. “Juno, I am going to reach into your mouth and take the berries out as I am worried they are dangerous.” The explanation took 2 seconds and then I got the berries out. Even a baby deserves an explanation when we are going to do something to them. We moved away from the berry patch.
3:30 pm “Ramona, shall we go to the loo together?” “No” I am fairly sure she needs a wee but hey, it is her body.
3:40 pm “Mum, I need the loo and I already leaked a bit.” Me: “Oh, I find it a bit frustrating that you did a wee in your pants as now I need to do more laundry!” I think being open with our own negative emotions is healthy as I wouldn’t want the children to think we have to put on a false happy, brave face for the world.
However, as I am putting her spare leggings on (we carry spares everywhere because I will never, ever force her to go to the loo – what does that tell her about people in power being able to do anything they want to her body?) I consider how just that very morning I had been running about, busy in the house, reluctant to interrupt my flow to go to the loo. Yes, my friends, I had leaked too. I wish I hadn’t told her I was annoyed about the leak.
Ramona doesn’t want to leave the cafe when I do. “I want to get home to make tea. When shall we go?” I ask. “In five.” “Okay.”
Juno sits on the toy Ramona is playing with. Ramona shoves her over. “Ramona, I need Juno to be safe around you.” It’s pretty rare that Ramona gets physically agro, but it is one of my limits. I listen into arguments with my ears (not eyes, which can aggravate tension, I reckon) and if I think the kids are fairly matched and could have a little bit of a push and sort it themselves then I leave them to it. However, if it is unfairly matched or I see Ramona really getting enraged, I hover and speak to Ramona, “I can see you’re mad and it is okay to be angry but I’m not going to let you bite him.” It is Ramona’s right to express herself but it is every kid’s right to be safe.
5:00 pm Home again. “Can I watch a movie please, mum?” Ramona is so polite, and always asks all the time, even though we have never told her to. When it comes to manners I am CONVINCED we just need to model what we want to see in our kids. If we are kind to them, they will be kind to us. And then also, sometimes they will shout. Just like we do.
Ramona is SO EXCITED to find bits of Frozen on Youtube. Seeing her so absolutely stoked with life makes me want to cry a little bit. How I love this wild one.
Mind you, I am glad she has found Frozen and not some other Disney princess crap. I would actually ask her not to watch that, I’d say “Can you find something else as that princess is well annoying.” I am worried about her getting Battered Wife Syndrome as a result of the princess propaganda that is marching stridently into our lives. This is not unschooling and is probably adultist. I have issues. But then again, I want to provide an environment that promotes freedom and I think that the limited gender roles of Princess world is entirely inhibiting. *Thus begins 50 millionth internal monologue of the day*
5:30 pm The internet isn’t working so Ramona wanders about and finds a tub of my bentonite clay. She opens it and a bit spills “Oh, sorry mum! I’ll get a cloth!” I am surprised every time when she is all polite and respectful like this. I don’t know where she gets it from, Tim and I are sweary louts. Ha. Just kidding. I sort of think it is just a case of her speaking to us in the way that we speak to her.
5:40 pm Tea is cooking but Ramona finds the chocolate “OOH LOOK CHOCOLATE I’LL HAVE ONE BIT NOW AND THEN ANOTHER BIT FOR PUDDING” During tea we have a chat about how caffeine in chocolate can keep you awake. I think it is worthwhile chatting to kids about the realities of things and then letting them make up their own minds.
6:00 pm Ramona only eats the kale on her plate. YUM, MORE PIE FOR ME! Juno puts pumpkin in her ear, on her head and squashes it into her toes. I think this way of life is basically like Baby Led Weaning but for the whole of life. Provide a good environment/ plate of grub, trust them with the rest.
7:00 pm “OOH REMEMBER THE CHOCOLATE! WOO! I really want a bit that is bigger than me… but I’ll just have one bit.” Would I have stopped her if she wanted a bit bigger than her? Actually, yeah… maybe. Because then she would be awake at 10pm and Tim and I would have to be awake with her, even though we go to sleep at 9:30pm and we’d probably be grumpy about it which wouldn’t be nice for Ramona. I would have said “I’m worried this will keep you awake, can we come up with a way that leaves us all happy?” And she would have broken off a bit and hidden it in a secret place for her to have for breakfast. (This happened a few months ago.) When it comes to food… me and Tim LOVE CHOCOLATE AND CRISPS. We don’t often have it about but when we do we eat it all the time and at any time of day or night. So, if it is good enough for us, why not her? Seriously, why not?
(It’s not obvious that I am just typing out loud, is it?! Ha.)
7:30 pm “It is quite cold, do you want a jumper on Ramona?” “No.” Okay. Juno plays with a biro, covering her arm in ink. Ramona has a bath and turns the taps on cold. Would other parents stop their kid running cold into their bath, do you think? Why bother stopping that? “It’s cold!” “Do you want to put more hot in?” “Yeah.”
Ramona wanders about naked in the cold house. I just don’t agree with making kids wear clothes if they don’t want to. What is the worst that can happen? *thinks* Pneumonia? Really? A cold that they were going to get anyway? Possibly.
8:00 pm “Mum, I want to go to bed!” Ramona has always just asked to go to bed when she is tired – is it possibly because we have never enforced bed time? Funnily enough it is nearly always around 7:30pm these days – classic bed time!
Me: “Shall we put pyjamas on as I am worried it will get even colder in the night and they you will wake us up because you are cold?” Am I imposing my need to not wake up in the night an extra time on her and thwarting her will? Maybe. If Ramona doesn’t want to wear pyjamas, and it seems like a big, emotional issue for her then I will let it rest. But it is always worth expressing my needs because we can so often come up with the answer to both, together.
“I want to wear my superhero suit to bed.”
And thus ends the day of a family living in the middle ground between neglect and control!
Yes, there is a lot of internal monologue and daily discussions with my husband. There are mistakes, where we have moved closer to neglect and close to control at times. Each day we are trying to find a better balance. (Read this on finding that balance!)
I believe this journey we are on is an important one. I believe it is the one most likely to further social justice in the world, and the one most likely to result in a respectful child. (Read this lovely account of a mum to a teenager who raised her son this way.)
Now tell me- have I gone so far down the rabbit hole that I’m talking nonsense to you? Or is this not so different from the way you do things?