Can't we just be a loving mama? Do we really need to be labelled as anything else?
These sorts of discussions and stories do get me mulling over the way we do things here in the Pollard household. I often reflect on the parenting 'style' of my own parents and think of how I have adapted and changed things to follow my own path. I often think back to how I was as a child, what my personality type was, and how I coped with different situations - just how did I feel? And I seek to learn from them.
As a young child I was painfully quiet and shy. Terribly so. I wanted to please everyone. My mother was raised in a generation where quiet children were good children and so my quietness was almost encouraged - although admittedly it was a natural trait of mine. I was a happy child, please don't get me wrong, but I was naturally aware of what pleased my parents and that was to be a model child - respectful of adults (perhaps fearful in some respects), well mannered, eager to please, and easy to care for. If I went to a friend's house for tea, I would eat whatever was offered me - even if I strongly disliked it - and ensure that I would eat it all. If I was given a choice of foods I would opt for the easiest to cook option, even if I didn't prefer it. I sought to be as far from difficult as I could possibly be. You know, I was that shy, I wouldn't even ask for a drink if I were thirsty or worse still, if I could go to the toilet when at someone's house, preferring to hold it in desperately rather than voice a question.
I find that terribly sad now, to think that a child had such a, hmmm, not fear as such, but perhaps a nervousness that prevented her asking what is of course a human right.
I dressed in what I was told to wear (and some of those clothes were cringeworthy!). I wore my hair how my mother chose to style it. I ate what I was given to eat. I went to Sunday school every week because I was told to go, and dance classes on various days because I was told I should. I was the model child at school. Even though academically perhaps I wasn't at the highest, I sat and listened quietly. I didn't get caught up in disruptive behaviour, didn't chat in class, and I would readily help out the teacher at every opportunity. I desperately wanted to make my parents (particularly my mother) proud of me, I wanted them to beam as people told them what a good girl I was or what a pleasure I was to care for, and I sought approval at every opportunity. I was fearful of disappointing, or hurting feelings. I smile as I think back to when I had an advent calendar with chocolates in it. I would open up a door and take out the chocolate, placing it in a bowl and putting it to one side. The next day I would open up a door, take out the chocolate and place it in the bowl with the first. Then when my daddy came home I would take the chocolates and give one to my mum and one to my dad. I wouldn't give it to them at separate times for fear of the second receiver feeling less loved than the first - I really was that bad.
So where does that leave me, now, as a mama of five children myself?
I know that my parents raised me to the very best of their abilities. I was always well fed with a hot meal and usually a pudding, clean clothed, warm, and comfortable, and treated to caravan holidays and an annual trip abroad, and yes I am more than sure I was (and still am) loved dearly. But one thing I feel I may have missed out on as a child is time. My dad worked long hours outside of the home and my mum worked equally hard inside the home and as a hairdresser. My mum was very keen at keeping a clean and tidy home and I remember on more than one occasion where she would forfeit time that could have been spent with her children to clean and bake for us at home instead. Obviously as much as I appreciate the beautiful home that she provided, I do wish that we had spent more time together. Our weekends were organised and much the same week in week out - I was at dance classes throughout most of Saturday and church until lunchtime on a Sunday. Upon reflection I perhaps wish that we had done more with our weekends - simple family picnics for example, to build up the family memories.
I can offer that to my children.
I can ensure that we create some really great but simple family memories together.
Time is the most precious commodity we have.
Let's offer that precious commodity to our children.
I can allow them to become who and what they wish to be. I can offer guidance without judgement and we can have 'family principles' to stand by within our home, but I can allow my children to seek their own path. They can choose what to wear, how to style their hair, what food they wish to eat.
To me that is important.
It is important that their individuality is able to surface and they don't feel restricted or confined by my wishes or because they seek my approval.
It is important to me that they are self-assured and confident and I believe that having such choices goes some way to achieving those things. I don't ever want my children to have to feel self-conscious and uncomfortable in a social situation because of an outfit I have requested them to wear. I don't want my children to feel they have to sneak an item of clothing out of the house to change into when down the road. I don't want my children to hide their lunch away from me because they are disliking what I've offered (I was terrible for doing this, my parents were always discovering hidden mouldy sandwiches leftover from school lunchtime. I would rather hide them than admit to not eating them).
By offering choices to our children and providing the opportunity for free-thinking, we are ceasing the need for deceit between parent and child.
I can offer trust.
I can trust my children to know what is best for them.
I can allow them to make their own decisions. As a child my bedtime was dictated to me, and I remember it being far earlier than my classmates. I often felt left out of conversations as a TV programme from the night before was discussed and I had to admit I hadn't seen it. Upon reflection it is a simple, silly thing to recall but recall it I do. At the time I remember it feeling huge. It felt so unfair and I would get cross at my scheduled bedtime. Again I know my parents were parenting as they saw fit and I am not criticising, I'm just saying how it felt. I am able to learn from those feelings and have chosen a different way for my children.
That different way works for us.
My children are allowed to go to bed when they are tired, when they have listened to their bodies and been alerted to the fact that they need to rest and sleep. There are no restrictions as to when they have to go to their rooms or what activities they do there, and we don't have a lights out policy.
I am often asked just how this works. It is often suggested that it is neglectful not to dictate a bedtime, and it is often presumed that the children must all be up and about until the wee small hours of the morning and then sleeping in until after lunchtime. People tell me that I'm not preparing them for life in the real world, when they need to jump up at the sound of the alarm clock in order to get to work on time. They also tell me that their child would be up until all hours if allowed such freedom and would laze in bed all day. I ask them if they really believe that and genuinely it appears that they do.
So what's different for us?
We are of course in the - some would say - very privileged position in that we home-educate. This means that the children are able to receive as much sleep and rest time as their bodies require. But does this mean that they stay in bed all day or that they are being ill-prepared for 'real life'? Personally I don't think so. If we are required to go somewhere in the morning - doctors appointment, meeting with friends, dentist clinic, etc, we know we need to prepare for that. We know that we need to rise at a time suitable for that days routine and will react accordingly. Earlier bedtimes may be sought, and alarm clocks may be set. Even when we don't have to leave the house at a certain time, we have animals within our care and they all have needs that need to be met in the morning. My children know that they have a responsibility to those animals and thus will ensure they are meeting those needs at a reasonable time. They will listen to what their bodies are telling them. If they feel tired they will retire to bed. If they feel wide awake and alert they will remain up and busy instead of becoming frustrated due to sleep not being forthcoming. My 7 year old often goes to bed at between 8pm and 9pm even though no restriction is placed upon him, but there are occasions when he is discussing something with me at 11 at night. My 17 year old is often in bed before 11pm by choice. My 15 year old son is a little different in that he likes the early hours and converses online with people from around the world. Between 1 and 2am is the norm for him to say goodnight but he regulates himself and adjusts his sleep time to suit his level of need.
My children don't need to 'take advantage' of my, some would say goodwill, in allowing them to go to bed when they feel like it. They don't need to deliberately stay awake and fight the urge of their bed calling because they know they always have the choice. They know that tomorrow night they will also have that choice, and the night after, and the night after that. They don't have to force themselves to stay awake and therefore become tired and react accordingly in order to make the most of the staying up late opportunity that has arisen.
The same with their food provision. We enable free-snacking throughout the day. If we have it in the cupboards, the children are allowed to take it. I do ask that if they are in doubt on what is on the planned meal plan, they do check with me first. There is nothing worse than being at the end of week with few provisions and about to cook a Spag Bol only to find that the pasta has been whipped away for somebody's lunch. We have all agreed that we enjoy a family mealtime, and will plan a weekly meal plan with input from everyone accordingly. Our dinner time is set so we eat around the time that Lee returns from work, so we agree that it is respectful to the cook of that meal not to fill up on snack foods beforehand. This isn't a forced rule and regulation, this is something we have openly discussed and decided upon as a family and it works well for us. If the children aren't hungry at one particular dinner time, they can skip the meal and eat something later. That is a choice open to them but one that is rarely taken. At every meal my children can eat as little or as much as they require. They sometimes regulate their own portion size in the case of a small appetite that evening, but more often are seen helping themselves to seconds. They are never judged if they leave food on their plates and we certainly don't pile the guilt of starving children in the world on their shoulders. That doesn't mean that we don't discuss world famine issues, of course we do - the children see it on the TV news and charity advertisements, and read about it in newspapers as well as seeing references to problems online. Receiving a pudding is never offered as a bribe for a clean plate, receiving a pudding is open to them regardless of how much of their meal they ingest. Because of this I believe that puddings are not held in such a high regard. They are not earned or given as a reward. They are appreciated of course, as is anything that is given to any member of our family, but it means, in my opinion, that food - savoury or sweet - is regarded as equals and one is not deemed as 'better' than the other. As Chelsea has just told me, food is food!
Because we have no 'rules' surrounding bedtimes and meals for example, we don't set ourselves up for battles. Our household is able to run far more calmly, even when we have more children than perhaps the norm. We minimise the risk of causing issues by allowing the children to be treated on an equal footing as the residing adults. I wouldn't tell my husband what time to go to bed or to clear his plate, why should a child be treated differently? I wouldn't tell my husband how to spend his time, why should I dictate to a child what they should be doing, what extra curricular classes they should be attending, or what they should be studying. I trust them to make their own choices and work in partnership with them. Anyone who has met us personally as a family will know that the freedom my children are offered does not make them unruly or difficult, it doesn't make them unable to fit into society or follow the rules that society provides us with. It certainly doesn't make them any less respectful of others. Instead it makes them feel valued and listened to, something which I strive to offer any child whom I may be fortunate to cross paths with.