When I was a child there were strict rules which had to be adhered to on pain of death.
- Sit at the kitchen table to eat, all together, with knife and fork, at the necessary time
- “Thank you for my dinner” and “Please may I be excused” were necessary after meals
- Go to bed at the necessary time
- Wake up to an alarm clock
- Change into pyjamas ( for boys) nightdress (for girls) before bed
- Baths to be taken before bed, some days, not all
- After bath dry thoroughly before changing into night clothes and dressing gown
- Hair to be dried before bed or before going out for fear of catching a chill
- A maximum of 2 biscuits to be taken at a time
- Clean teeth on waking and on going to bed, religiously
- Curtains to be opened every morning because otherwise the neighbours will think somebody has died
- No sweets or snacks before meals and certainly no eating dessert first.
- Regular haircuts required to keep appearance neat and respectable. Boys had short hair
- Offensive words such as pissed off, crap and arse were punishable by near death
- children didn’t wear black
When I grew up I got rid of all those rules as fast as could. I ate curry for breakfast and ice cream for dinner, I slept in a T shirt with wet hair, I wore black and was a crazy rebel. I have never caught a chill, bubonic plague, syphilis or heartburn. My teeth are good. I am fine, I don’t use drugs, have never been arrested and my life is good. I just don’t want, nor need, stupid rules in my life.
When I first had children I did apply a rule or two . I knew babies were over washed, so baths were as needed, not by the calendar, but we did try to have a set bedtime for several years, 7 pm.
It was always a nightmare to try to get them to sleep to schedule requiring hours of stress on everyone’s part. After a while, I think my elder child was 4, we all started piling into bed together and reading ’til we dropped off. Much nicer, much easier, less stress, everyone happy.
We used to eat at the table, before we sold it. I bought them cute pyjamas from Mothercare because I thought I should, but if they fell asleep in their day clothes, so be it. Always let a sleeping child lie. Teeth cleaning in the am and pm has always been strongly suggested, but never made a cast-in-stone necessity if somebody was too sleepy.
Now my boys are 12 and 10. I think they’re great kids and so do plenty of other people.
- They sleep in whatever makes them comfortable and none of us owns pyjamas.
- They have perfect teeth despite only 3-4 lifetime dentist visits and relaxed brushing ( we went today, dentist was impressed, good genes, I know)
- They eat sweets before meals, sometimes dessert before mains. They are happy, healthy, fit, athletic kids and great eaters. As are we all.
- If we buy biscuits we scoff the lot in seconds. No repression here!
- They eat sweets, a lot. As can I if I choose.
- They use computers whenever they get the chance, no rules or restrictions within the home It would be hypocritical to enforce limits when I make a living online.
- Bedtime is when you’re tired, or when mum needs to go to bed. If still not tired, read, but mum needs to sleep, sorry, staying up after mum goes to bed isn’t possible.
- They get up when they’re ready
- As an adult I have ever said “Thank you for my dinner.” or “Please may I be excused?” What was that all about? But I’m really nice to waiters and so are the kids, we appreciate them.
- Take a shower when you need or want one, any time of day is fine. As do I.
- Hair mostly dries naturally unless it’s sub zero. As does mine.
- They can eat where they like so long as it doesn’t go on clothes, carpets or furniture. As can I.
- They can have their hair any way they like, as can I
- They can use the word arse with gay abandon, it’s one of my favourite words, but they know not to use it in a job interview or in front of grandma. I come down heavy on anything much stronger which could cause offence.
Why do we have this double standard and different set of rules for kids? It totally bemuses me, that kids aren’t treated as humans in society.
They thrive on living without “kid” rules. I have not one complaint about who they are nor what they do and we all get along just great. After all, in a few short years they’ll be living in the adult world, with nobody to shelter them or enforce routines. Surely it’s better for them to get used to that world and self regulation as early as possible? Surely if they experience the real world now, while still in my close protection, they can figure it out, ask questions and we can talk? Once they’re flying solo that physical closeness and connection won’t be there
What made me think to have a little rant about rules today?
I just read a thread on Mumsnet ( stupid, I know, I got sucked in). The original poster was asking if it was unreasonable of her to think dining tables are a thing of the past and formal dining and dining rooms in modern homes were totally unnecessary. The world and her wife jumped on her, saying that family bonding over meals was essential, kids had to learn table manners through dining at home, it was scummy and depressing for a family to eat in front of the TV. The condemnation went on and on. I suspect all those judgmental mums had very small children and were striving for the ideal magazine lifestyle. I’m not saying that eating at the table is wrong, it’s lovely sometimes, but every day, 3 times a day….come on!
Right now my younger son is eating a pizza he made himself at the table while doing something on his laptop. My elder son is prostrate on the carpet also fascinated by laptop. His dinner, and mine, are still in the oven, we weren’t hungry yet. I’m sitting on the floor with my laptop, I’ll eat here too. We spend all day together, in the same room at home, walking to the park together, visiting friends together, shopping together, we can talk all day, why do it at the table? Their table manners are fine much better than many adults I know. They eat in restaurants ALL the time, it’s no big deal but today Boo is eating with his fingers, D and I will use a fork and one hand. Nobody is going to die because of it. We’re enjoying our time, not living it to rules. We have no space for rules in our lives particularly not rules just made up for kids. We’re too busy enjoying, not harming anyone else and not giving a damn what the neighbours think.
I am not a radical unschooler, I’m not even a self-declared unschooler, we do “school” in our own way. I have a cut off if things get inappropriate, violent, dangerous or embarassing. We do have a few rules, they are as follows:
- If you take food, finish it, unless there is a good reason. I don’t like waste
- No destruction of other people’s property or behaviour that is likely to cause destruction
- Be nice, be kind, be a good person
- Don’t waste money on stuff you don’t need
- Do what makes you happy so long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else
What we don’t need are rules that are pointless. Hopefully my boys will continue to be masters of the art of self regulation and our relationship will continue to be excellent. I hope they never feel the need to shake off a childhood of oppression.