Friday, September 29, 2023

Taking a Step Back Can Provide All the Freedom Your Child Needs!

November 16, 2010 by  
Filed under Parenting From Balance©

Freedom to have power, explore, create, play, and resolve conflicts can be given to children anywhere, at anytime.  These freedoms are so essential to becoming individuals, and so essential to discovering our own purpose in life, and our gifts.   And yet parents these days seem to helicopter over their children, surely motivated by love, providing guidance and a running commentary on their child’s every action: “Say please!  Share!  Don’t do that – take turns!  That’s not nice!”   Contrary to these parents’ loving desires for their children, this hovering and directing steals away their children’s opportunity for magic and joy and power, and individuation!  How do we arrive at a place where we can allow our children to freely experience the (dangerous?) world we live in?

When I was a child, we had a couple of special things in my house: so many kids around all the time that we always had enough people to play monopoly with, and the freedom to explore pretty much on our own.  There were 6 of us, 3 girls and 3 boys, each 2 years apart.  It was a lot for my parents to handle, and so they would often divide us up into 2 groups of 3: the big kids, and the little kids.  As a result, we each had 2 ordinal positions in the family.  Since I was child number 4, I became the oldest of the little kids, and with that title came a certain responsibility and trust.

My mother was always home and available for us, but never “in our space.”  She was very good at providing rich environments for our self-directed discovery, and yet she never crowded us.  She was great at providing interesting gadgets and materials from which we could create and build.  The Christmas that I turned 6 was monumental: our big gift for the holiday was building supplies!  Mom got us hammers, saws, Montessori-style rotary drills, a sack of nails, and a pile of wood.   We spent weeks just attaching one piece of wood to another, with no method or plan.  It was all process and no product; the fun was simply about hammering the nails into the wood.  Since it was winter, and we lived in Michigan, all of this hammering took place in the living room. Could you imagine allowing your 6 children to hammer and build in the living room of your house?  I couldn’t!  My mother was great in that way.  We all knew that our house was our house.  Once in a while we would go right through the wood and into the floor, but she didn’t get angry.  She showed us how to take the nail out using the claw, and then how to put a second piece of wood below to catch those errant nails.

We also had plenty of physical freedom.  Because we were from a tiny village in the countryside of southern Michigan, we had the freedom to move about on our own.  We knew everyone by name, and they knew us, too — at the very least they knew which family we belonged to : our eyes gave us away.  It was ultra safe for children, and when we had a plan, Mom let us travel downtown to fulfill it.  The appliance store down town, 3 blocks off in our 6-block square town, always had their deliveries on Thursdays.  We would go down right after school and check for a big box.  We loved boxes, the bigger the better.  Give us a refrigerator box and a steak knife, and we would be off in our own land of deep play for the week.

Sometimes on the way to the appliance store we would see Butch the policeman, or Mr. Brown, the butcher, who would paint our noses on the window as he created his new advertisement for the week in white paint.  Mr. Kirby, the shoe man, would say hello, and Mr. Bailey would always have a new birdcall to whistle at us as we passed by his drug store.  Finally we would reach Mr. Newman’s appliance store, and we would go in through the front door, us 3 grown up people, very much in charge of our own undertakings,  and we would march right back to his sales counter, where we would wait for our turn in line to ask whether we could have a box that day.  Not one of us could see above the counter, so Mr. Newman would lean over to accommodate our request. We were in luck!  It was Thursday, and a new shipment had just arrived that morning!

We would drag our treasure ship back home:  8 year old me commandeering at one front corner, 6 year old Wayne at the other, and 4 year old Judy pushing in back.  We would pull and push that box back home and right into our driveway.  We would then grab steak knives and crayons, and start working.  We would collaborate on window and door placement, and Wayne and I would start cutting with the knives, while little Judy colored and designed the sides with flowers and curtains and scrolling patterns.  Finally we were done, and we would begin our play — bringing over furniture from our other play house, and dolls and bears, and dishes from mom’s kitchen.  We would stretch a blanket on the floor and start with a picnic.

The three of us were constant companions, even though at times it was a little challenging to accommodate each one’s wishes.  Judy and I might be quite  interested in playing house or school, but Wayne would usually want to spice things up with something involving a battle, or a gun fight.  We would often accomplish this by creating a new role — Wayne would become the policeman, or the hunter, the mean principal, or the postman.

One box would last almost a week, and accommodate a motley variety of play.  Starting as a house, the structure would metamorphosize into a bus, and as the week progressed it would slowly transform into a fort that hosted a huge battle, and then a trampoline, and from there the structure would quickly deteriorate into a slide.  Finally someone would grab the paints and dump them out on the flattened cardboard, creating a sliding rink for our slithering bodies.

And all of this spontaneous change and cooperation would happen without the aid of an adult urging us to compromise.  We would come to our own resolutions, and everyone involved would be content with the result.    I remember arguing a lot with my brothers and sisters, but we were given the space and power to work things out on our own, and we usually did.  Through our play we learned how to compromise, and how to get along as a member of a group.  We also gained a lot of confidence in our ability to navigate the world on our own.

We had freedom in our community, too. On our block, none of the neighbors had fences, and all of the back yards came together in one unending play space.  Each yard was defined by whatever personal equipment and gardens each family had, but we were free to visit each other spontaneously, and often.  Talk about freedom!! After dinner, we were usually turned out and told to be home when the street lights came on.  We would usually run out to play hide and seek with all of the neighborhood children.  4 year olds would play together with 8, 9 and 12 year olds.  Many an argument and tussle occurred, but we worked it out among ourselves.  We didn’t want to go home and bring a parent into the argument for fear of being told to stay in.  When we couldn’t work it out, we sat on it, eventually bringing it up to Mom or big sister, but only well after the street lights came on, when there was no longer any danger of our evening play being cut short.

Though times have changes, and most of us can no longer can allow our children to play outside until the street lights come on,  we can still provide our children with freedom to explore and think and resolve on their own.  Even in the close confines of a living room parents today are still able to provide their children with the freedom to work things out on their own.  It just takes a little trust, and a willingness to take a step back, and allow our children to have their own experiences, rather than inadvertently forcing them to relive ours.  I like to think of it like this: I want my son to have his own relationship with my mother, rather than my relationship with my mother…so I consciously take a step back and give him the freedom to interact and create his own relationship, good, bad, and richly conflict-ridden as it may be.   I don’t want to take a thing from him.  The world is his oyster….

Lots of Love,
Riviera PlaySchool in Redondo Beach, CA
A humanistic, constructivist, and mindful program for the “whole child,” inspired by the best of Attachment Parenting, Reggio Emilia, Montessori, Waldorf and Compassionate Communication.
Wisdom begins in wonder. –    Socrates

“Do not train children to learning by force and harshness, but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.”  ~ Plato

“People are people no matter how small.”
~ Horton


3 Responses to “Taking a Step Back Can Provide All the Freedom Your Child Needs!”
  1. You created such vivid visuals. It brings to mind the similar experiences of fort building with my cousins in the jungle behind my house. Yes, I want my son to have that sense of freedom! Thanks for the reminder.

  2. melody elder says:

    I so enjoyed reading this, Linda.
    What a rich experience for you and your sibings, and how very wise your mom was.
    The experience of my own childhood was very similar…growing up in the desert…my 80 year old grandpa loosely in charge of me and my brother (one year younger) while my parents were working…we built forts and played “army” (I was the nurse); collected horny toads and lizards and bugs to feed to them…and displayed them at “carnivals” we set up and charged a nickel for anyone we could find who would come (bless those desert creatures we caught…thankfully, we set them free after the “carnival” and hopefully they were not terribly harmed); made up our own television game shows; made prank phone calls (pretty silly and hopefully harmless…God, I hope they did no harm); created things endlessly from paper, staples (I stapled my finger once), crayons, tape, cardboard, whatever we found laying around; thumbed through the Sears and Roebuck catalog calling “dibs” on what we each wanted; played jacks, hopscotch, and jumped rope endlessly; rode bikes all around our small town that had a population of 1,500 people and a volunteer fire department; ran the hose frequently in our bathing suits squirting each other and lapping up the water; made rubberband balls; worked on our penny collections; played Red-Rover, Mother-May I?, and Hot Potato on the street (where cars rarely traveled) in front of our house at dusk with neighboring kids of various ages until dark; got cactus thorns stuck in our butts regularly; fought constantly with my brother, but somehow we managed to not kill one another and would’ve killed to protect each other from anyone else…
    Thanks for the memories, Linda…

  3. Linda says:

    I want that freedom, too, Sandy!!! Thanks for commenting!


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