‘My first daughter taught me a necessary lesson: she is able to signal when I am becoming over-involved in any aspect of her life, protect herself from my undue desire to control, and emerge with the skills she herself wants to pursue. She teaches me constantly that we are really on the same side. She wants to strike forward in life and fulfil herself, just as I would wish her to do, but she will move in her own time and from her own initiative.
These days I try not to define success (or failure) in terms of the behavioural patterns of my children. … If parents and children are not enjoying life, and each other, we are probably neglecting the process of parenting. Success, if it means anything, has more to do with happy memories than goals achieved.’
Deborah Jackson, Letting Go As Children Grow
I vaguely remember reading this when the girls were young; toddlers at most. I didn’t remember a whole lot about it, apart from it being fairly reassuring and in line with my general parenting principle of benign neglect. To be honest, we were still at the ‘Three In A Bed’ stage (another book by Deborah Jackson for the co-sleepers amongst you). Most of the book was looking at some distant future that I had about as much idea of as any new parent – which is to say, none. Obviously we were going to do just fine, but the details of how were a little hazy (I view the impending teenage years in much the same way now).
I planned to do a quick flick through during a recent swimming lesson session to remind myself of the content, and frankly, couldn’t stop. Turns out either I subtlety absorbed everything I read back then or we’re both just independently following the same laid-back-but-not-horizontal path, much as I remember experiencing it in my own childhood. A friend recently told me I should write a book. Too late – this is more or less the one I would have written!
Jackson quotes from a whole host of other writers from around the realms of education and parenting to build her argument that children need respect, a suitable level of autonomy, non-judgemental love… and not a whole lot else. And so do parents. Putting the two together you get children who are free to explore their world at their own pace, and parents who demonstrate their values and boundaries without overly either controlling or following their children. We all bumble along beside each other, moving from the intertwined dependency of babyhood into individual but (hopefully) friendly adults, neither parent or child sacrificing their own path in life for those of the other.
I’ll admit the ‘leave them be’ approach is part of our reason for choosing home education, and much of the book fits well with a home or alternative education philosophy (John Holt, John Taylor Gatto and Maria Montessori all get well quoted); but it’s certainly not only a book for home educators – Jackson’s own children went to nursery and state school, and the ideas – slowing down, pushing a little less, and accepting a little more – apply as much to life outside school as within it. I’m looking forward to a leisurely rereading, though I fear that as Jackson says in her introduction to the revised (2003) edition, I shall ‘rediscover ideas and questions which I thought I had off by heart but realise I forget to apply.’