A couple of years ago, I whole heartedly jumped on the, raising my children as “Free Spirits” wagon. I so wanted us to be one of those families that respected and trusted their children’s choices, that did not ask our children to do anything they did not want to do including, helping with chores, cutting their hair or nails, take a bath and eating what they wanted. I joined some “Unschooling” blogs from the US and read about how we should see bringing our children their dinner on a tray, so they do not have to leave the computer to come sit around the table with the rest of the family, as being a respectful act. That going into your ,not so young, child’s bedroom and picking up all their dirty washing and plates and cups without complaint, was a service we should do with grace. That, why should everyone eat the same meal just because you spend hours (okay, 30 minutes) cooking it? That, if a child is too young to stay in the house on their own but, everyone else in the family wants to go somewhere, one of the parents should see it as lesson in holy sacrifice to stay home with the child rather than the child having to come along for the greater good of everyone else. Oh, I tried to do all this, I really did but then, one day, a couple of months ago, I woke up and realised “This isn’t working for me” nor, might I add was it working for my husband. We were exhausted, frustrated and resentful.
There is one fatal floor in making sure ALL your children’s needs are met and that is….none of yours get met, well not often anyway. I learnt very quickly that actually, in this life, we do not always get our needs met. That we are not an island but, have to learn to coexist with others. If one (or two) members of a family is getting all their needs met then often, it is at the expense of someone else’s needs being met. And, are we using the word “Needs” correctly here, would it be more accurate to say “Wants”. “My child WANTS to stay on the computer, rather than come sit with the family for dinner”, “My child WANTS to eat chocolate biscuits for dinner, rather than the healthy meal that has been provided for them”.
Another learning for me was my children’s reaction to all this “Freedom”, after a while they started asking for boundaries! Our daughter begged me to help her stop eating sugar as she felt she couldn’t do it on her own, she even expressed a wish that I would go back to being “Strict” on sweets like I was when she was younger. Our son did not like to brush his teeth, even when we explained how important it was and in the spirit of raising our children as “Free Spirits” I left it. Our son then started suffering from terrible tooth decay. He became traumatised by the treatment he had to have at the dentist. As my son stood shaking from his last treatment, I thought “What am I doing, my son NEEDS me to be a parent, a responsible parent”. In her book, ‘Raising Parents, Raising Kids’, child therapist, Dawn Menken states ” With many parents who raise their children as “Free Spirits” in reaction to a culture they feel is rigid and too rule-oriented, the free spirit has trouble living in a culture with boundaries and doesn’t know how to set meaningful and useful boundaries for themselves”.
I have to say, I no longer believe that children will always make healthy choices, as some unschooling guru’s claim. Children need guidance, they look to us for help to navigate through a world where there are so many “Unhealthy” choices to choose from. They also look to us to teach them about how to be in the world, how to coexist with others, how to respect and consider other people’s needs as well as their own. We all know those parents who allow their children to be “Free Spirits” who come into your home and start tearing up the place, scream in your face and break your children’s toys. Do you invite them back again? Are you thinking “Sure, run wild little ones…just not in my house!” So, there must be a “Third Way” as my friend Bruce Scott, author of Free The Children often says.
I believe there is a way of respecting our children’s “Free Spirits” while working with healthy boundaries that help them to grow into compassionate and emotionally intelligent adults. It is not an easy task being responsible for a little human being and we are going to make mistakes but, as long as our children feel heard and are reassured of our love for them, everything will be okay.