Sometimes it’s hard to describe what respectful parenting looks like in day to day life. How can it work with multiple autonomous kids making their own choices? Isn’t it chaos? Well sometimes, ha! But I think every house has a nice amount of chaos, right?
Anyhow, I thought I’d share with you a day in our life, from a parenting perspective. How do I make sure not to limit the freedom of these awesome people, while also making sure everyone’s needs are met? How do I consciously and intentionally parent so as to help eliminate childism from our family? How do I guide and nurture without control? Big goals I have there! But, all it realy is, is intention, thoughtfulness, and conscious choices in everyday moments.
“You need to be content with small steps. That’s all life is. Small steps that you take every day so when you look back down the road it all adds up and you know you covered some distance.” -Katie Kacvinsky
The day starts early. I mean, before the sun is up early. My kids are early risers. On this day Miss 6 is first up and she wants to play Minecraft straight away. The girls are new to this game. As in, first played it yesterday new. They’ve never really played a computer game before so they are mega excited. When Miss 8 wakes up, she joins her.
The little girls wake up and ask me to make them breakfast, which I do. Miss 1 likes to be made breakfast, but rarely eats it. She’s all about the ritual of sitting at the table while her sister eats and having a bowl of the same thing, but is actually hanging out for something better to come along. We don’t force her to eat.
The big girls are still playing Minecraft. I make my breakfast while the little ones watch. They argue over a bug catcher, both wanting it. And then they argue over who gets to whisk my eggs. I just narrate and stop any physical harm. We don’t force sharing.
‘You both want the bug catcher. I won’t let you hit her.’
‘Whisking the eggs is really fun. You both want to do it. How can we work this out?’
They’re not overly passionate about these two things and they’re settled easily, both having a go and then offering to the other with a smile, making a game out of passing it back and forth now.
I cook my eggs and the girls stay sitting on the bench. They’re playing in the fruit bowl and I notice they’re throwing tomatoes. Hmm…maybe not. I pick up the tomatoes and explain that if they are thrown they might get bruised and yuck and I would like to use them. I ask them not to throw anymore and then go back to cooking.
They throw them again, having a great time. This time not onto the floor but too hard back into the bowl. I go back and explain again that the floor wasn’t the issue, just that they were being too rough. They try to put them back gently.
‘You were having a lot of fun throwing the tomatoes. I wonder if there’s something else you could use instead?’
Miss 3 suggests a ball and Miss 1 goes outside to look for it. She comes back in when she discovers the grass is wet though.
It’s the moment Miss 1 has been waiting for, my breakfast is ready. She excitedly runs and grabs a seat at the table, big sister following, shouting ‘Me too! I want some!’
I always make extra because this happens every time. I once made her a bowl of her own and she wasn’t interested. She only wants them off my plate. That’s fine with me. I leave some on the side for them and feed them both in between mouthfuls.
They’re eating a lot, but I’m hungry! I eventually tell them that’s enough and I want to eat the rest because I’m hungry. They say they still want more and I offer to get them something else when I’m done. Now they ask for water. I tell them I will finish eating and then get their drink bottles. They are happy to wait. Respectful parenting doesn’t mean you never say ‘no’. It means that you focus on your personal boundaries and communicating them, instead of using arbitrary rules to control behaviour.
I clean up the kitchen and do some washing. Miss 6 comes out for breakfast. The little ones ride their bikes around the house. I know. Gasp. We’re not into rules. Bikes in the house is fine as long as nothing is getting damaged.
The girls are still playing Minecraft. I can hear so many giggles coming from the study. People often ask about my views on screen time. I find it hard to explain. Personally, it would challenge or concern me if they spent all day every day on screens. At the same time, I don’t believe that’s cause for control. We don’t have any screen time limits in our house. If I had any problems with their use I would just communicate honestly with the girls and hear their opinion. I don’t have any concerns though. They are interested in many things. At the moment I expect screen time to be high for this week as they are super excited about joining their friends in playing this new game. If I reacted negatively to that or tried to limit it, I am certain it would cause them to want to play it even more because of fear of it being taken away. Control is never my answer, unless I am reacting unintentionally.
I do, however, have to talk to them about getting off the computer this morning! We have plans to go out. I go in and try to talk but they are in the middle of something. I wait a minute and then ask them to pause the game. I let them know what time we will be going out and suggest Miss 8 has breakfast and they get dressed and ready now so that we’re not rushing when it’s time to go.
They are not keen to go anymore. They are having too much fun.
I tell them that I would like to go because I’m worried that we would disappoint our friends if we didn’t turn up. We have committed to something (it was the girls own choice) and it’s a small group so our absence would make more of an impact than it would at a bigger event. They listen and agree. I empathise with their feelings of disappointment and eagerness to keep playing. They go and get ready.
It’s time to go! Everyone is ready! Bodily autonomy is respected! Everyone picks their own clothes most days. Miss 1 is currently keen on mismatched shoes. We hop in the car and have to wait 5 minutes for Miss 1 to consent to sitting down. She thinks this is a hilarious game. I try to make sure we get in the car earlier than necessary so that I’m not feeling frustrated and pressed for time. She wants to know she’s in charge of her own body, and I want her to know that too.
Today we’re meeting up with some homeschoolers for a book club. Everyone, of every age, is free to join in as they please.
Miss 6’s choice of pose to listen to a book, ha! They are always free to move their bodies however they need to. We are not part of any groups that restrict children’s movement or force participation. Everything is voluntary. The only thing I have to remind the girls of is if they are sitting and listening to a book another child is reading then it is respectful to not be too noisy. But they are free to move away if they please.
After we’ve finished reading and talking about the books, the kids run off and play. Miss 3 is having a hard time. She wants a breastfeed and I am not feeling like it. I’ve said no. For a while, she was having many feeds a day and I was finding it tiring. We talked about it and I told her I’d be comfortable with two feeds a day. We decided on her favourite times of morning wake up, and nap time. She’s pretty understanding but occasionally asks at other times. Today I don’t want to though. Miss 1 woke up a lot last night and I just really do not feel like it. I apologise, explain, and empathise. She is angry. She cries for quite a while. I hold her and hug her and empathise. Miss 1 comes over for a cuddle and Miss 3 tries to kick her, which I stop. She eventually stops crying but continues to cuddle for a while. Then she asks me if I will take her over to where the other kids are playing. I do and she joins in.
It’s time to go home. When we get to the car the big girls ask if they can play the computer again when they get home. I predict that the little girls will be sleeping and I don’t want them to play in the study which is right next to where they will be. They want to use the laptop in another room but are arguing over who gets to use it. I tell them that we can work it out while we drive home. Ten minutes later they say they’ve worked out a plan where they take it in turns having 20 minutes each while the other one draws plans for what they will do when it’s their turn.
Miss 3 says she doesn’t want a nap today but falls asleep 5 minutes before we get home. She wakes up when we arrive and is still adamant she doesn’t want a nap. She looks tired to me and I tell her that, but it is ultimately her choice and I let her know that too. Miss 1 asks for a feed so I assume she is sleepy now. She doesn’t fall asleep. She finishes, sits up, and tells me she doesn’t want to sleep. This is the second day in a row and is unusual. She also hasn’t slept well at night. I figure something is going on and go with it. We don’t force sleep at any age.
The big girls continue with their drawing and minecrafting plan. I make some pasta sauce for dinner, and the little girls do some painting outside. Including some consensual body painting. There’s a few arguments over paint, but they work it out themselves as I watch from the kitchen.
The rest of the afternoon passes without incident. They girls play happily inside and outside.
After dinner the girls have showers, except Miss 6 who doesn’t want one today. I notice Miss 8’s hair is quite knotty and suggest she washes it. She doesn’t want to. I tell her I’m worried that if she doesn’t wash it, it will be increasingly hard to brush each day that passes. She probably hasn’t brushed it all week! She agrees and decides washing is a good idea after inspecting the knots in the mirror.
We get all the knots out and she asks me to braid her hair so it can stay knot free and she won’t have to brush it for a few days.
Miss 3 is very tired. I empathise… ‘You’re so tired. It was such a big day and you haven’t had a rest. Your body is tired and it doesn’t feel good’.
Miss 1 asks to ‘goodnight everyone’ which means she wants to go to bed. I feed her to sleep. The other three want to go to bed around 8pm and their Dad lies with them. We all sleep in the same room because everyone likes it that way. We don’t force sleep or bedtime. Everyone chooses when they are tired. Because it is not forced they don’t feel the need to try and gain control by staying up late. They are free to listen to their own bodies, from birth.
And that’s it. A simple and typical day. It doesn’t feel like much, but it’s all the little choices that matter. There are always arguments to help with, feelings to empathise with, and negotiations, but we are able to work anything out. When children are respected and know their freedom and autonomy is valued, they are much more willing to hear what you say. They know that we have no arbitrary rules and that there must be a reason for anything I am suggesting. They also feel free to disagree or say no, knowing that anything is up for discussion. It makes for a much more peaceful family life.
This post is part of a series documenting everyday respectful parenting moments. Reading real life parenting examples inspires me. I also find it helpful to look back on situations and think about what went well or what didn’t. Maybe you will too!