‘I tried letting my children choose their own bedtime, but they didn’t sleep when I wanted them to.’
‘I tried respecting my children’s autonomy with food, but they didn’t eat when/what I wanted them to.’
‘I tried letting my children self-direct their own learning, but they didn’t learn what I thought was important.’
‘I tried letting my children pick their own clothes, but I didn’t like what they wore.’
The above statements can be summarised by saying…
I tried giving my children freedom, but it didn’t ‘work’.
And when you say it like that it sounds absurd doesn’t it?
You can’t give someone freedom on the condition they still meet your expectations or else you will take it away. That was never freedom to begin with.
So no, you never tried freedom. What you tried was a different parenting technique that was ultimately based in control.
Children aren’t silly. They see right through this. They know that it’s not true freedom but rather a test, to see if you will deem them trustworthy or not.
Trying freedom out as if it was some sort of parenting ‘technique’ does not qualify someone to judge how children would or would not behave if they were given ‘freedom’. You have to know truly free children to know that.
“Sadly, in many cases, the assumption that children are incompetent, irresponsible, and in need of constant direction and supervision becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The children themselves become convinced of their incompetence and irresponsibility, and may act accordingly. The surest way to foster any trait in a person is to treat that person as if he or she already has it.” – Peter Gray
You don’t have to believe me when I say that kids without control are capable and trustworthy. That’s your prerogative. But you don’t get to pretend you have tried it and have evidence that it doesn’t ‘work’.
You have to experience it first.
I hear you when you say you don’t believe it can work.
I hear you when you’re afraid of the criticism.
I hear you when you say it is so triggering just to even try!
I hear you when you say you are worried about doing it all wrong.
I hear you when you have doubts.
That’s ok. Do it anyway.
It is hard to do something different. We have been socialised to believe that adults need to control children. We’re warned regularly about the ‘dangers’ of letting kids ‘do whatever they want‘. But we can choose whether to believe it or not. We can choose to repeat the same patterns, or to create a new path.
“Many people seem to think that the way to take care of children is to ask in any situation what is the most stupid and dangerous thing the children could possibly do, and then act as if they were sure to do it.” -John Holt, How Children Fail
We can choose a new path that is filled with respect, unconditional love, acceptance, and protecting our children’s rights. A new path that ends up being a whole lot more peaceful and fulfilling, if we can sit with the discomfort of breaking free from control ourselves. No, it’s not easy. But ask anyone who has been there if it’s worth it, and they will tell you YES!
So please, don’t ‘try’ freedom and autonomy as if they are techniques you can use on your children. But DO commit to living with the children in your life as equals. To respecting their rights and wishes. To treating them as whole people from birth. To seeing the amazingly capable and trustworthy people they are. To examining your own reactions and triggers when you encounter problems, instead of requiring your children to be the ones to change. To approaching any difficulties with openness and honesty instead of arbitrary limits. To offering your guidance, support, and advice to help them grow and learn, instead of control which shuts down any chance of growth. Because that’s what they deserve.
“What we need to realise, and it is often very hard in the case of people we love, is that our power over another person’s life is at most very limited and that if we try to extend our power beyond that narrow limit we do so only by taking from him his ability to control his own life. The only way we can fully protect someone against his own mistakes and the uncertainties of the world is to make him a slave. He is then defenceless before our whims and weaknesses. Most people would prefer to take their chances with the world. They have the right to that choice.” – John Holt, Escape from Childhood
Some other posts you might find helpful on your path to freedom and autonomy…