But, you know, I can’t blame him. I did refuse to allow Captain Chatterbox to wear shorts to school today, given the temperature and the fact that he had been whining about being cold all morning. I also don’t let him do whatever he wants, ever! I know, I am a total meany poo-poo head.
I did not react, but simply continued the daily leaving-the-house-in-time-for-school malarky and walked on. After five minutes of humphing and stomping and it’s-not-fairing, Captain Chatterbox fell silent, looked at me with big, sad eyes, and said, “I’m sorry I wasn’t nice to you, Mummy. I really do love you.” And we continued, happily, to school.
I have been thinking about discipline, about boundaries, about who should be “in charge” in a family. There are many proponents and practitioners of the “child-led parenting” philosophy. I used to scoff heartily at the idea of a child ever determining what was best for themselves, and believed that “parents knew best”. I scoff no more. Scoffing has ceased to be. Now, don’t misunderstand me; our home has not suddenly become a kiddie-run free-for-all with MumDad as servant. Rather, I now realise that, without trying, we have a parenting style that I suddenly recognised after reading Pamela Druckerman’s French Children Don’t Throw Food.*
Roughly speaking, French parents adhere to the notion of “le cadre” (the frame). “Le cadre means that kids have very firm limits about certain things – that’s the frame – and that the parents strictly enforce these. But inside le cadre, French parents entrust their kids with quite a lot of freedom and autonomy.”* What le cadre entails varies from family to family, but it is the boundary of inviolable rules and values that the parents set out for their children (and themselves), but within which a child has the freedom to be themselves, to discover themselves.
French parents reason that saying “yes” as often as possible means that the occasional “no” is both effective and meaningful. Le cadre creates a familial environment that is relaxed because it is clear where the limits of acceptable behaviour are. Parents have authority without being authoritarian. Recently, we sat down as a family to decide upon four family values that would form our cadre. It was really fun, and a great bonding experience. They are now stuck to our kitchen wall as a reminder when things go pear-shaped (which of course they still do. C’est la vie.) See left …
“The French have managed to be involved with their families without becoming obsessive. They assume that even good parents aren’t at the constant service of their children, and that there is no need to feel guilty about this.”* Indeed. When I was a child, way back in the late 70s and 80s, I remember my parents loving me, feeding me, teaching me, reading to me, helping me with homework, driving me to school and Brownies and piano lessons. I also remember that (after a certain age, of course) going for hours and hours on weekends and during school holidays barely seeing a parent, mine or anyone else’s. Rest assured, they were there, but there was no compulsion on the part of parents to be constantly providing “stimulation” to their children. That’s what imaginations are for! That is what the ability to read is for! That is what learning to overcome boredom is for!
I have always enjoyed my own company. When I was a child, I played in my room with my dolls for hours on end, inventing elaborate dramas for them. I was – shock horror – allowed to ride my bike with my neighbourhood friends, unaccompanied! When I announced to mum that I was “just going down to the river with my friends” the response was, “rightio”, as opposed to “don’t go to close to the water” or, indeed, “No, you’re not”. I walked to and from school. It was assumed that my homework was done. Kids seemed to implicitly understand and accept that parents had adult lives with adult things to do, but that this had nothing to do with a lack of love for them.
I know, I know, the world has changed. Or have we? For a thought-provoking read on this very topic, I highly recommend Judith Warner’s Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety. “By making (our children) the be-all-and-end-all of our lives, by breaking down the boundaries between ourselves and them so thoroughly, by giving them so much power within the family when they’re very small, we risk overwhelming them psychologically and ill-preparing them, socially, for the world of other children and, eventually, other adults. Nursery school and kindergarten teachers are already complaining that our children are so indulged, made so royal at home, that they come to school lacking compassion for others and with real problems functioning socially.”
I have decided that the next time Captain Chatterbox declares his hatred for me that it is nothing more than a sure sign that I am doing my job as a parent, my way.