Adjective: Open to new behaviour or opinions and willing to discard traditional values.
Noun: A person of liberal views.
Synonyms: generous – bounteous – lavish – bountiful – free
My parenting was fairly liberal. I first realised this when our kitchen table became a gathering place for teenagers, when my Mum escorted us to Glastonbury, when boyfriends were allowed to stay over. But to be honest it’s only recently I have learnt how and why that could happen, and what it actually means to be a liberal parent. Liberal does not mean let the kids run wild and do as they please. The flip side to being liberal is about teaching responsibility, encouraging openness, empowering children to make their own decisions and to take calculated risks. Then you can have more freedom.
There’s a whole heap of scaffolding that goes on as a liberal parent, and it’s very time consuming and it’s also quite invisible to the naked eye. When I wrote my mum’s eulogy this time last year I realised just how much scaffolding had gone into giving me so much freedom. My mum had a psychology degree, was a teacher and a playtherapist, our liberal parenting was a very informed choice.
Whatever your parenting style, when you meet parents with dramatically different styles, you clash, or worse still you try and meet in the middle. It’s trying to meet in the middle that’s the killer, a surreal parenting tango in which lots of grown up toes get stepped on and kids are left lost in a parenting battlefield.
In talking to my Dad last week, and airing some frustrations about trying to get my 3yo to ‘behave’ in line with other kids, my Dad told me to stop worrying he was 3, and that’s what 3 year olds do. He wisely reminded me that he will grow up, grow out of it and that it saddens him to see so many parents trying to force their kids, under perceived social pressure, to behave in such regimented ways in public.
I’ll hold my hand up high and say I value my children’s creativity and self expression above cultivating table manners, although that’s not to say I won’t reinforce them, I just don’t want to have a battle over it. I don’t want my parenting to be suffocating, by expecting my children to share before they are cognitively able, or by expecting them to sit still before they are ready, or the bug bear of the media, and of me right now, by forcing them to learn formally when they are too young, and all they want to do is play. But when I look around, I feel a bit steam rollered into this stuff.
One thing I have noticed, is that while my kids
won’t always hardly ever sit still, tidy up, listen the first time, or eat nicely, I think they have developed big doses of empathy and emotional intelligence and rarely pick out other people’s bad behaviour or faults. Surely these things are more important than table manners?
Of course there’s been lots in the media lately about whether we have become too child centric. I would argue no, we aren’t nearly child centric enough, we need to let kids be kids more, but maybe what’s missing is the recognition that freedom and responsibility go hand in hand and that teaching that takes a lot of time and energy.
So that’s my parenting style, and it’s roots in Mum and Dad. Ultimately, we all just want the best for our kids. What about you?
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