There are (if you did wish to categorise) four styles of parenting – authoritarian (traditional coercive, socialising style), neglectful, indulgent/permissive and authoritative (helping, respectful style). I consider myself to follow the latter.
The difference being I can gather, is regarding trust, interference and whether you guide them respectfully with love, or not at all. I am consciously trying not to use control measures to train my children like manipulative use of praise, punishment, rewards, or evaluation so may be that is seen as neglectful. I tend to watch and be a guide when required. For instance if my son brings me a picture, I don’t praise or evaluate like “oh wow good boy, aren’t you a good drawer!” I just validate his own expression of achievement so he relies on his own standards and feedback. For instance I would mirror his emotions and say “I see it, I see your picture. You have used lots of colours. When did you learn to draw like this? You figured it out by yourself!” But anyway, back to boundaries!
I feel extremely frustrated about the accusation that I have no boundaries. I know my failings because I have analysed myself to death. They are that I can be inconsistent, too emotional, I let myself be bullied and I can be very indecisive and that means that I am not strong in myself – a big fail. But I am working on all those areas.
But will I create more boundaries for the sake of fitting in? No, I cannot do that because my lack of control in is purposeful. I shall explain after exploring some boundaries I have in place. Safety is where I draw the line – I child proof rather than say no all the time, because then no really does mean no. I remember being in a supermarket and seeing a boy walking around with his dad who was saying “no don’t walk like that , Oliveeeer don’t touch that, Oliiveeeeeeeeer NO NO NO don’t walk there, no don’t walk so fast, no Oliveeer can you not see you are in his way….”. Any one could see that Oliver was blocking out his dad’s incessant whining and any “no” coming from his lips wasn’t taken seriously because his dad’s over control created a world, where Oliver didn’t know what he should be doing at all.
So some examples of my boundaries: I have created a child free kitchen when I am cooking by child proofing it and placing a baby gate across the archway, playing with chemicals and wash powder is a definite no, eating soil is a no, eating anything poisonous or breakable is a no, no walking on a road, not playing with glass, no hot water, basically anything dangerous and without an opportunity to learn .
And here is where I may shock you. Because here are some boundaries that I probably should impose for social reasons but do not, and I will explain why. My children as babies have or will be introduced to climbing, scissors, knives, graters and peelers, and stairs. At around two years old (and definitely by age 3), my son was able to use a knife to chop vegetables, he could grate himself cheese, and peel vegetables. When I see the children who share my life trying to use tools, I guide them. If I am using a pair of scissors and a little pair of hands tries to grab them, I validate “yes, I see you want to use the scissors, let us explore together – you see these blades are sharp, I never touch them ouch ouch, this is what they are for – we cut things” and I guide their hands to hold the scissors and we cut together. Some might say I am encouraging them, I would argue that they are in less danger of accidents because they know how to use the tool properly and do not have the same unnatural curiosity about these objects that other children do. My opinions about stairs and climbing have changed since the boy who shares my life has grown. When he was a baby, I was a lot more fearful and did not trust that he knew what his body could do, I can see now that my fears have become his fears. I taught him not to trust his body and he now has a lack of coordination and lack of trust in his physical ability that brings on raging feelings of guilt in me.
Every time he went to climb or he lightly fell, I would rush over grimaced face giving him the impression he could not trust himself to know when he was upset or what his abilities were. Since then I have learnt that children know what their bodies can do WHEN left alone to learn without interference. As an example, if you look at babies from tribes who live in high up tree houses, they do not fall. If you look at tribes which have deep holes dug out in the ground, the babies crawl to the edge, look down, then crawl away and never go close enough to fall in. It is not because they have the fear of God in them but because they have been left to explore and discover for themselves. As I am sure you have experienced, being told not to do something doesn’t make you not want to do it, it just makes you even more curious. For most children taught not to do things out of fear, they’ll just wait to do it when the source of fear is not around!
Can you imagine the trust involved from the mother? Seeing your baby crawl across, and look down a huge drop? Can you imagine. Can you then imagine knowing your baby needs to learn themselves and letting go? Well I tried an experiment at home. One of the babies that shares my life was constantly trying to climb on the table, and I started off by pulling her off constantly. Then I remembered to trust her so she could trust herself. I saw her going to climb and I smiled benignly and went about my business. Next thing I see she is sat on top of the dining table helping herself to a piece of fruit. I then watch as she tries to back off the table, she lays on her tummy and pushed backwards – she missed the chair and dangled her legs down. At this point I got very nervous and wanted to “save her”. I walked closer but did not touch her. I watched as she pulled herself back onto the table, she then shifted over and repeated the movement until she made contact with the chair. She then sat in the chair, very content. She repeated this three times and then went off to play on the ground. She learnt how to climb on and off a table, without accidents, without intervention because she had confidence and trust in herself. She has since learnt to climb the stairs and comeback down, as has her sister (both 15 months). I cannot lie and say I trust them enough to do this without me around, but as they gain confidence so do I. Now I can sit at the bottom of the stairs waiting for them to come down, seeing how happy they are with their own ability.
The difference being in the first list of imposed boundaries, to the second set which I do not impose which I have been told I should, is that in day to day life we don’t play on a road so neither will the children who share my life – it is always dangerous, we don’t play with chemicals – but we do have confidence in what our bodies can do and we do have faith in our ability to use basic tools.
- Aldort, Naomi. Raising our children, raising ourselves. (paperback)
- Aldort, Naomi. Trusting our children, trusting ourselves. (CD)
- Graham Brent. Teresa. Parenting for social change.
- Grille, Robin. Parenting for a peaceful world
- Jackson, Deborah. Letting go as children grow. (paperback)
- Jackson, Deborah. Three in a bed: the benefits of sleeping with your baby. (paperback)
- Liedloff, Jean. The continuum concept.