Most of us think we were brought up right and have emerged from our childhood unscathed and untraumatised.
We all agree our parents were strict. By modern-day standards, they were regular martinets. But we think we turned out all right and feel we have done pretty well for ourselves (despite them), knowing as we did that there were well-defined boundaries. Straying outside these rarely occurred to us.
Then we had our own families and child rearing was turned on its head. At first we were amazed at these human beings we had created and were struck by their individuality. We spoke fondly of their independence and marvelled at how stubborn they could be.
Soon, we had let the reins of control slip through our hands. But we told ourselves that we were giving them the freedom to express themselves. So, they were allowed to question our decisions. There was no telling them to do something just because we wanted it done. Nor would we tell them how to do it. They could let their imagination soar.
If we remembered a time when we were kids and pretty passive ones at that, we reassured ourselves with the thought that we had given our young ones the best of both worlds – a certain structure to their lives and yet a certain freedom of choice.
Then we found our every move exposed to their critical gaze as they had no qualms about telling us off when they thought we’d gone too far. If ever we were bold enough to counter this with a timid “But I always listened to my parents and never questioned them”, you could be sure that a look of immense pity would be directed at you as if to say, “You poor senseless being with no mind of your own.”
If you can identify with all this, then I have something to tell you that will make you feel that although you might think you are the cat’s whiskers as parents go, there are others who have taken things even farther. So, still that hand that was going to pat your back and read about this family comprising the requisite pair of parents with four kids.
The couple decided early on they were not going to impose any rules. They remembered hating being told what to do and when to study. So, their children are partners in their lives. They can get up when they want, eat what they like and whenever they feel like it, study if they want to and play all day instead if that’s what rocks their boat.
The parents say their children are well-adjusted, happy and stress-free.
I can sense the niggling doubt that is snaking its way through your body. Perhaps you aren’t doing enough or giving your children all they deserve. You almost feel embarrassed when you think about the few rules you’ve put in place. These could range from the mandatory family sitting down to meals together, not letting them turn up their nose at vegetables or insisting that they can play only when school work is over.
That’s when you pause to think. Why did you stop short of giving them absolute freedom? What made you incorporate some of your childhood patterns despite your being adamant about not doing anything simply because it was done by a generation before you or because it was the done thing. How you resented that phrase — what will people think — whenever it was thrown at you the few times you tried to exert your independence.
Maybe, just maybe, there is some wisdom in certain practices. They have withstood the test of time for good reason and surely we can be content with that?