Parenting, unschooling

Parenting: “Children Rights” or “Don’t be an arse”

21 October, 2015

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.

You diss my children? Prepare to die. (I JEST! I JEST!)

You diss my children? Prepare to die. (I JEST! I JEST!)

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.

teresa brett - child rights in the home

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*

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  • Duncan 21 October, 2015 at 7:18 pm

    Thanks Lucy! Great post. Love reading your thoughts and challenges. They strike a real note and I take much away. Keep going x

  • ThaliaKR 21 October, 2015 at 7:57 pm

    I really love this, thanks, Lucy, and I know just how much energy and pain has gone into this discourse. Well done on articulating things so clearly and reasonably.

  • Lucy 21 October, 2015 at 9:02 pm

    I find it incredible (and worrying) that you received so much negativity for saying we should treat our children with respect. I mean, how terrible a person are you that you think it’s wrong to oppress people? That’s awful! *tone of heavy sarcasm*

    It’s very much a work in progress in our house, but I love that there are parents like you out there leading the way and challenging the accepted way of doing things. Keep up the good work!

  • Emma 21 October, 2015 at 9:29 pm

    Beautiful writing and lovely thoughts and honesty. You have helped me develop my learning from the rights post which i loved. I am still frequently in the pattern of using my power more than I would like, and as my awareness increases i notice the negative effects of this displayed in my daughter in the days following (eg recently removing her from park play equipment because she was refusing to share without any recognition for her right to complete her go / experiment with ownership / realise the consequences herself). Keep writing please. Xxxxxx

  • Yael 21 October, 2015 at 10:19 pm

    So sorry that you had to go through this – but that’s the price you pay for living outside the box and challenging society. I loved your reflections and answers and think you are doing fantastic job at advocating for children’s rights.
    It is unbelievable how the simple concept that children are people is so hard to grasp (and clearly I fail to hold myself from using my privilege on my kids *way* to often, so not trying to be overly righteous here). Thanks for being there, don’t let that bring you down.

  • Dawn 22 October, 2015 at 1:08 am

    Lucy, I think you are amazing. I love reading your blog, you really inspire me! I always find that when a post polarises opinion like this one, it’s because it’s hit a nerve. Unfortunately motherhood seems to be treated like a competitive sport sometimes, some mums seem to struggle with the idea that there might be an alternative and maybe even better way than their own. I’m really thankful that I’m not one of those people, please keep on inspiring us x

  • Rachel 22 October, 2015 at 1:37 am

    I really loved the first post and appreciate your thoughtful and respectful response to the critical, and personal, comments it engendered. Parenting is such hard work and as my mother, a RIE educator, told me – it is also the time to re-parent ourselves. This can lead to so much personal criticism and opportunity (especially when we are bombarded with so many books, blogs, articles on the “correct” and often contradictory way to parent). In both posts you offer ways to respect children and in turn, ourselves. Thank you for the reminder. (And as an avowed Feminist – I don’t get the “sanctimonious trolling” comment. Vitriol is not constructive, or Feminist.)

  • Megan 22 October, 2015 at 11:23 am

    I so agree with you about respecting child rights and getting their permission to do things to their body etc!
    I realise that you would not have had to cross this bridge with your amazing no nappy babies but what would you suggest when a 1.5 year old doesn’t want their poo nappy changed? I hate forcing her to do it but at the same time would hate even more seeing her go through the agony of nappy rash…

  • Lucy 24 October, 2015 at 10:57 am

    I think you’ve been very generous and forgiving to try to reflect and explain things to people who have dismissed or critisied you.
    Really this is your space to write your own views, it should be a safe platform for you to do so.
    I feel irrationally annoyed at these strangers who called you a troll! But well done for reacting maturely and not just telling them to bugger off and get all saaaaf Landan on them (as I may have done!) probably why your the writer and I’m not!

    • Lucy 28 October, 2015 at 9:50 am

      Ah, I was tempted to go Saaaaf Landan ha

  • Natalie 25 October, 2015 at 9:22 am

    I really enjoyed the 10 Habits post. It especially made me think about talking about my children in front of them (and also what I say about them when they are not around). Sorry to hear about all the mean-spirited criticism – I hope you can concentrate on all the goodness that your post generated. Sending a virtual hug (but only if you consent, of course)!

    • Lucy 28 October, 2015 at 9:49 am

      hehe! I consent!

  • Bridget 25 October, 2015 at 11:33 pm

    I hate that you got the responses you got and it’s easy to say “don’t let it get to you” but we all take things written (or said) from the heart as part of us, so it feels like a personal attack. But that’s probably the same way a lot of the haters took it too. I know on my initial read, yes I read it twice, it got my back up. The reason? Guilt. The way I want to parent and the way I do parent don’t always match. Fortunately I was able to sit back, realise this, and adjust my thinking before guilt, jealousy, anger took over. We are all one and we are all in this together.

    • Lucy 28 October, 2015 at 9:49 am

      Ah phew, I am glad you didn’t run away!

  • Nina 27 October, 2015 at 8:53 am

    I thought your original post was great and I’m really surprised you had so many negative responses. I work for a charity that supports children and young people and I shared your 10 habits with my colleagues. It was really well received and even forwarded on to our senior management team. Thought you’d like to know this has struck a chord with professionals as well as parents! Good luck Lucy, I really enjoy your blog and all the things you share.

    • Lucy 28 October, 2015 at 9:46 am

      Thanks Nina. I’m so glad it struck a chord x

  • Hazel 27 October, 2015 at 9:56 pm

    Hi Lucy,
    I hope I am not a hater, but I would class myself as a sceptic. I do admire the thought you put into how you live your life, and enjoy reading things which challenge my thinking.
    My biggest concern about this way of parenting, is that it appears to say that children should be treated the same as adults. I feel this is unfair on the child as they are simply not able to process decions in the same way. You talk about consent, but this is not truly informed if the child is not able to fully comprehend the implications. For example, although a child can refuse consent for you to share their photo from a very young age, they can’t truly consent until they have a full understanding of what the internet is, and an awareness of trolls, bullying, paedophilia etc.
    There is evidence that our ability to make decisions is not fully matured until our mid twenties. Because of this, I feel that as adults we must accept a role of responsibility for our children, and make decisions that are in their best interest, even if these are difficult in the short term. From the trivial example of needing to stop playing and eat dinner to avoid becoming hungry and miserable, to the more serious example of needing to undergo an unpleasant medical procedure because of the longer term benefits. Although I try to be respectful in the way I enforce these actions, (and I do use the word enforce deliberately) I would override my child’s wishes when I consider that I know best. Allowing the child to suffer the consequences of a decision they weren’t truly competent to make just doesn’t seem fair to me.
    I’d be interested in your thoughts on this

    • Lucy 28 October, 2015 at 9:54 am

      Hi Hazel 😀

      Yes, perhaps giving the impression I thought people who weren’t sure were “haters” was not a good idea! hehe!

      I believe that parenting should be a partnership based on and we each have something to bring to it. I have, for example, 30 years of experience to bring in, so I have some ideas and solutions and do suggest things to my kids (without maniupulation or coercion or demand that they listen) but I also bring a pessimism or stubborn-ness that 30 years on earth can bring, so my children often have creative ideas and solutions that work BETTER than my own! I think saying “We are the clever ones” is incorrect and prejudice, if we see our selves as equals, meeting human to human, we are able to see exactly how much children can bring to the partnership. I wouldn’t let my children flounder or suffer, and I beleive because our relationship is based on mutual trust, there doesn’t need to be overriding 😀

      • Hazel 29 October, 2015 at 2:06 am

        I don’t think you gave the impression that everyone who disagrees is a hater, and I think it’s a fair term for people who’ve simply responded with insults.
        Thank you for taking the time to reply. It’s given me more food for thought, although I’m not convinced yet. I will continue to read your blog with interest.

  • Pinkoddy 29 October, 2015 at 9:24 pm

    Ok so I haven’t read the previous posts yet but I definitely will. I don’t get why people have to be so negative of other people’s opinions/choices just because they are different to their own (I mean people trolling you). I am really interested to learn more about this as we are currently having trouble with our son and we have always worked on reward and not punishment but YES we have taken stuff away and it is not working. It is also not a notion I am comfortable with so I am thankful to go and look at these alternatives.

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