lunes, 30 de junio de 2014

How Democracy Works in our Home

Even before I had children I was certain of at least one thing: I would not raise them to be obedient. In my experience, children who are expected to obey without question will grow up to become either dominant and controlling or overly submissive and obedient. I thought that in the twenty-first century most parents would agree with me that children should not be obedient. After all, if you ask them what they would like their children to be when they grow up, they all say 'happy', 'loving', 'responsible', 'self-reliant', 'intelligent'... Nobody says they would like their child to become an obedient adult. To me, hearing that a child should obey his parents is as shocking as hearing that a woman should obey her husband. Yet, I still hear the 'because I say so' of my own childhood, which I thought I would never hear again. On the other hand, people from older generations are saying that children today are given too much freedom.

I've always told my kids why there are things they can't do and things they must do. We have very few rules, as everybody who's met us knows. Some people would say we have no rules at all. I think we have at least one: 'Don't do unto others what you don't want others to do unto you.' Dave and Alex don't like to be hit, called names, be shouted at, told when they should eat, have showers or go to bed, or what they should learn. I don't like that either, so that's why I don't tell anybody, and certainly not my children, to do something I wouldn't like other people to tell me to do. I give the children what I think is good for them, but I could be wrong. I don't think children are given enough credit to know for themselves what is good for them.

So it seems sometimes people have the perception that my children are 'controlling my life.' I don't think I'll be able to change these people's perception for years, even though it is not true. Nobody but myself is in control of my life, and I hope my children will learn by example that they shouldn't let anyone control their lives either. I have chosen the life I have, which in the present moment is to live with my two sons and make everything possible for them to become loving, resilient, independent, free-thinking men.

Even though we live in such a coercive society, I don't believe we are here to control anybody. It is possible to live in harmony without constantly telling other people how they should lead their lives. At least in our world it is possible. Dave, Alex and I have always discussed the things we do together. It's not what I want but what the three of us negotiate together. When it comes to meals and bed times there is never a struggle: we eat when we are hungry and go to bed when we're tired. But when we need to decide where to go and what to do sometimes we argue, we say things like 'it's not fair,' 'it's my turn now,' 'you chose yesterday.' In the end we come up with a solution that makes the three of us happy. They know that some things must be done even if we don't like them, like the shopping, and we have no arguments about that.

When they were very little Dave and Alex would fight over things, but they soon learned to negotiate. It took months and even a year, but eventually they would reach agreements totally on their own, without me as a moderator. They would find a common ground on the things they wanted or wanted to do. However, about a year ago I noticed that Dave was starting to adopt a more dominant role over Alex. Sometimes he would talk to him as an adult. He was not just being a responsible and protective older brother, but he was taking over the role of father when their father was not around. And the worse thing was that Alex would comply. When they didn't agree on something, Dave would always find a way to persuade Alex to do what he wanted (and sometimes Alex would be upset later when he realised he hadn't wanted that but had been talked into it).

I told Dave that it was not his job to tell Alex what to do. And Alex needn't do as Dave said. While it is up to the three of them to decide what sort of relationship they have with their dad, when it is us three I won't allow anyone to be dominant over anyone else. Dave and I also argued more, and I became tired of having to have a fifteen-minute discussion for every little decision we had to make together. That's when I suggested a new way of doing things: we would each have a day in which we would choose what to do and the other two would agree.

It went well from the very beginning. They both loved it. On my day I usually chose to go to the library or catch up with friends they might not have wanted to see. Sometimes I had to remind them that it was my day and when it was theirs I didn't whinge! Most of the time, however, there was no problem. Sometimes it was nobody's day because we did things that had to be done and were not only up to us to decide, for example when we had to drive to Perth to pick someone up. And for weeks and months we forgot about our special day because, like before, we easily reached agreements without an argument. Only when one of us was not happy, he would say, 'Isn't it my day today?, it hasn't been for a long time...' and we would establish the rule again. The times when we most needed it was when we had visitors, because the kids would initially resent that there was a fourth party in the equation.

We haven't had a 'My Day' for at least two months, one reason being that Dave and Alex have spent most of their time with their dad. I've continued to live with them and be there for them every day, but I've let them do their male bonding without any interference on my part. It seems Dad doesn't have the need for a 'My Day.' He gives them a lot of freedom, but when some things need to be done, Dave and Alex don't argue with him: they do them.

Now it's the three of us again, but also Mar, my eleven-year-old niece from Barcelona, who's come to live with us for five months. Daddy left two days ago and already there was a disagreement among the children: two wanted to watch a movie and one wanted to play with the X-box. We have two TV sets, but as it often happens, they would not split and go to different rooms; we like to be all together in the big open dining room. There followed half an hour of negotiations and in the end the matter was resolved, but we talked about what we're going to do in the coming days and there were more discussions with everyone wanting everyone else to follow their own wishes. So I said, 'We'll do what I want because it is My Day!' The boys told Mar about it and they all quickly picked a day and announced what we would do. On Monday we had to go to Mar's school for an interview, and after that we went to Busselton for her to buy a tablet. On his day, Dave said we would go to the Reptile Park. On Alex's day he wants to go to the Xcaspe fun park. On my day we'll go to the library and get more books, which we all love to read together snuggled up in bed. My mum has a day too; she's here with us for three weeks and wants to have a look at the Cape Naturaliste and the lighthouse, something the kids growled at because they've already done. And on top of all that there are certain things we have to squeeze in every day, like taking Alex to the hospital for his hand check-up, taking my car in for a service, going back to Mar's school for another interview, doing the grocery shopping...

We spend a lot of time and energy talking, and sometimes it is tiring. Sometimes it would be so much easier to say, 'Because I'm the parent, and that's that.' But I won't do it. At this stage, the kids wouldn't let me get away with it anyway, and for that I am grateful.