Children rights and you, oh parent….
We are three weeks into our new homesteading life and what I want to do is tell you all about it. The pet ducks we are going to pick up, how our big family bed takes up most of the yurt (hmmmm, bed), the vintage potato mashers we hung to scare the birds away from our seedlings, the forest walk I went on that was actually really scary so I had to do the whole thing singing songs from Frozen to stop my mind stewing on the fact that there was only one set of foot prints in the muddy path ahead of me. EEK!
But I actually need to get a lot of things off my chest.
I have had these thoughts milling around in my head for months. Since I wrote that post 10 Habits that Infringe on the Rights of Children … and got an extreme response across the internet. But this week the criticism sort of crescendoed.
So for yurt dwelling and potato mashers and forest life check out my Instagram and keep your eyes peeled for the very next post….
So back to 10 Habits. Remember that? It was a Marmite post.
A lot of people loved it, I got messages from parents looking for someone to articulate WHY they need to treat their children with respect when they feel it so strongly, and from child rights advocates who could clearly see that the way we treat children in the home impacts the whole experience of rights in every country. And there were lots of people for whom it wasn’t a revelation at all – simply just the way they parent. (A lot of unschoolers in that category.)
But then there were the haters. Like I’ve never had before. Some feminists called it “sanctimonious trolling” and some mothers literally feeling happy about calling me a dickhead and dissing my children’s names.
When that happens to you you get a bit introspective. (Am I really a sanctimonious trolling dickhead?)
And you try really hard to see things from other people’s points of view. (They are frightened by the idea of not having control over their children.)
And you even question if you really think that, because if so many people think it is crazy, then maybe that makes you crazy. (Am I crazy?)
This process has left me with many thoughts. But I will share only a few with you right now. (Forgive that introspection. It’s a bit more relevant from here down. I guess I feel like my blog is actually a pretty safe place to talk this stuff through, I have so, SO rarely had vitriol in this comment section! Thanks, friends.)
I missed a lot of nuance
I often write a blog post and then I go back through and remove the “perhaps”s and the “I wonder if”s because I want to be clearly understood. I don’t want to make my blog hard reading because it is jam packed with caveats and context. Which does mean sometimes I come across as holding these intense black and white opinions, without any room for movement. I wish I had, for example, explained that I don’t always manage to correct these habits. That some days I suck at it and then I tell my children I am sorry.
I missed out a discussion on rights and privilege
I agree with one of the criticisms, that I failed (and fail often here on this blog) to acknowledge my own privilege, as a white, physically able, middle class woman with access to security, education, safe employment. I don’t believe it should be possible to have a conversation about anybody’s rights without recognising that there are huge oppressive structures at work such as race and economic inequality And also that I can not help but write with this lens on; in lots of ways my analysis comes from this position of privilege. Alongside everything I write I need to remember that my experience is not the experience of all mothers or women.
Parenting with a recognition of your child’s rights is available to every parent
One of the accusations I’ve experienced is that parenting with respect is only available to the white middle class of this world. It is just not the case. In fact, it seems prejudice to say that. In this corner of the parenting world I have met people from every section of society doing life with their children this way.
In the comments of the original child rights post, I felt there was a breadth of people talking about their experience of this kind of parenting. Sunshine posted in response to my suggestion that we ask before doing anything to our children’s bodies. “My toddler, whome has Down syndrome and is a tad delayed in development started wiping his own nose and cleaning his own hands and face after a messy meal at the age of 1. Practicing beforehand. And he absolutely loves this freedom. When I ask him if he would like a tissue ( towel) he dramatizes his YES, PLEASE!! If he doesn’t want to ( which is rare) I leave him be, booger and all. Just to illustrate that children are great learners even with their challenges, and they appreciate the chance to control their own discomforts.”
If you are interested in unschooling and child rights and disability please do follow Living Outside the blog, a differently abled mama with a child on the autism spectrum.
And if you are interested in the experience of people of colour and respectful parenting I want to point you in the direction of Akilah of Radical Selfie who writes for Everyday Feminism through the lens of a Black unschooling family, I began following her on Instagram a few weeks ago and what a delight! I also enjoy Darcel of the Mahogony Way – and in particular this interview with another black unschooler.
And I believe that talking about ageism (or adultism/ childism) belongs in intersectionality rhetoric
“Intersectionality is a concept often used in critical theories to describe the ways in which oppressive institutions (racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, xenophobia, classism, etc.) are interconnected and cannot be examined separately from one another.” (Geek Feminism)
You’ll notice that in that description of oppressive institutions ageism isn’t mentioned. I think it is a huge and grave omission. Children are oppressed daily by various adults in their lives. They live in a world set up for people bigger than them – the light switches are too high, the taps too far away (these may seem minor but accessibility is absolutely vital in the fight for differently-abled people’s rights) – in most countries in the world children are legally allowed to be physically assaulted.
In the very group, a feminist and social justice-parent discussion group, that described my child rights post as “trolling” they had a discussion yesterday about using gaffa tape to keep a child’s pyjamas on at night. With absolutely no acknowledgement that those pyjamas might be uncomfortable or that the child may be too hot. There is not a people group in the world, apart from the young, that a social justice minded group would collectively believe it was okay to coerce in this way.
Adult privilege must be acknowledged. Please read more here on adultism and a Day in the Life of an Adultism-Aware family and Teresa Brett on adult privilege as toxic to our parent- child relationships.
Rights don’t trump other rights
People seemed worried that talking about child rights in the home would negate the very serious, often fatal, rights of children in developing countries. Things like child labour and FGM and trafficking are absolutely sickening violations of the rights of children that are close to my heart. I do not believe that aiming to observe child rights in our homes undermines those violations. I believe the opposite. That a full and practical discourse around child rights in more economically stable societies will impact rights every, both by raising the profile of children as fully human, and by raising a generation of people who, having not been the victims of abuses of power, will not allow that to happen systematically, globally. (Crikey, what a sentence!)
Pitching FGM against “taking things off children” (which was one of the things I pointed out we do commonly that infringe on our child’s rights) is a tactic we don’t need in a world where a team of one hundred people are planning to colonise Mars within the next decade. We have HUGE resources available to us, we are achieving IMMENSE things, why not believe that all forms of oppression are evil, and fight them all?
I also think that using the “why use your energy on this minor issue when THIS is happening in the world?” is a form of silencing, commonly used by right wingers and Daily Mail commenters. I don’t believe in rights being exclusive in that way.
People also raised concerns that this style of parenting was mother hating. Nope. I believe it is mother loving! There is deep, profound joy in this consensual living malarkey. There is a shrugging off of “shoulds” and a general up-turn of the nose towards society’s ridiculous, imposed expectations on mothers. If parenting is seen a a partnership, between child and adult, there is less burden, not more. Winning Parent, Winning Child by Jan Fortune is a very practical guide to how this partnership can be very unburdening.
Finally, for the people suggesting I take the idea of a child’s right to be touched consensually too far, because I think it’s best we always ask before touching another persons body, I read this piece on Teacher Tom (marvellous blog!) about how his class of preschoolers, when given the chance to formulate the class rules came at it with this “extreme” rule; “Don’t do anything to anybody before you ask them.” Children get it. They want their body autonomy to be observed, even when there may be good intentions.
Why do we need to talk about “child rights” and not just “be kind to your kids”
Do parents really need to read something about how they are infringing on their child’s rights? Why so intense? Why not be kinder and simply talk about kindness?
I do get this one. The last thing parents need is to feel like they are being compared to Vladimir Lenin. (On the positive side, you’d probably look pretty alright next to him yeah?)
On one hand, I haaaaaaaate the idea of putting more shit on parents. Sheesh mcneesh, some days I’m just thankful we’ve made it through the day alive. The place is a tip and all we’ve eaten is cocopops but YES WE MADE IT!
On the other hand, I believe a recognition of child rights is something we need in our homes. Almost every critical thing levied at the concept of child rights in the home was something that has been tossed about as reasons to oppress women and people of colour and the differently abled and other minorities. They aren’t intelligent, they are selfish, they don’t understand, they are physically dependent on us. In the fight for equal status for women, people of colour, the differently abled, the elderly, the rights rhetoric is the critical thing.
In all of those cases people used to say “come on, we don’t need to talk about rights! We can just be NICER to them!” but it is only a rights framework that really brings to light the structural abuses of power that must change. It is only the implementation of those rights that has begun to change things (and we still have a long way to go on all of those institutional prejudices.)
I believe this will be the case for children too. I believe we are getting there. Robin Grille, in his brilliant book, Parenting for a Peaceful World, calls it the Child Liberation Movement. And it will be like the civil rights movement and the emancipation of women – we will eventually recognise that children are fully human and get the full quiver of rights that comes with it.
But “Don’t be an arse to your kids” simply doesn’t cut it.
Child rights-aware parenting is a Thing. It is done by lots of people! Thousands!
I was kinda shocked how dismissive some people were of child rights in the home purely because they couldn’t imagine it working. People couldn’t visualise a life with their children without Time Outs.
You can’t naysay something just because you don’t know anyone who does it. There are so many people living this way. Talking to their newborns about picking them up, asking if they can wipe their child’s nose, giving children body autonomy and dignity and giving space for their voice.
I also wonder if people immediately put barriers up to imagining this kind of world. perhaps because we are triggered due to having been a powerless child, it is hard for us to see ourselves as adults, delivering the same kind of power dynamics upon our children. We have a bit of an internal revolt about it. (My original post should have been far more sensitive to this idea – that many of us have been marginalised as children, and this will raise a lot of emotion, that would possibly appear as anger or disgust.)
Knowing there are thousands of people who have dealt with this inner turmoil and triggering and are now living respectfully with their children might release some naysayers to suspend that disbelief and find more out about it.
Once you decide to live in a rights-respecting way with your children there are bountiful resources to support you. There is Dr Laura Markham with her suggestions of Time Ins instead of Time Outs. There is Joyce Fetteroll of Joyfully Rejoicing with her perfectly practical suggestions on living life with children without forcing them. There is Teresa Brett with her book and parenting course. There is Genevieve Simperingham with her resources on Peaceful Parenting and phone consultations.
Once we deal with our huge feelings of, historical or present, internalised oppression and look at this idea of parenting this way objectively, I believe we can see that it is the logical way to a more socially just world. As Teresa Brett concludes;
“If children have not experienced what it feels like to be dehumanized, dismissed, and marginalized as children, they will not feel the need to perpetuate injustice on others as they grow more powerful in the world. If they have experienced trust, respect and mutuality as their paradigm, they will be the change our world needs.”
I had a lot to say about that!
*crawls to bed*