Stir Crazy

March 18, 2006

I didn’t intend for this blog to be a catalogue of nuclear family strife but unfortunately that’s where my life is at right now – it’s bugging me a lot at the moment because the realisation is hitting home that despite doing a whole lot of things right in the way of attachment parenting it’s pretty clear from our kids that they’re still suffering from being raised in civilisation.

Unfortunately (but also fortunately) it is true that a lot of nuclear family strife would evaporate if we lived in a village. I’m sure not all of it will since we bring civilisation with us where ever we go but let’s dwell on the possibilities for the moment.

One of our current problems is that our oldest (at 3 and a half) is going stir crazy being stuck at home. We were out last night visiting friends who’ve got kids as well and the place was a mad house. In the midst of this was our daughter being incredibly calm and independent, totally different to when we are at home where the atmosphere is very calm and quiet and she feels compelled to create a mad house to bring the stimulation levels up to meet her developmental needs (at least that’s my theory).

She generally wants an adult nearby at all times. It’s fine if I am working outside, both the kids come out and muck around somewhere within sight of me but if I am spending the day on the computer – look out! Either I get constantly interrupted or Karen gets very little done.

The continuum concept discussion list has been discussing just this issue. One writer reminded us that in a stone-age village, small children would be able to wander around finding new and stimulating things to do without needing to drag an adult with them because there would be a variety of adults doing a variety of activities in a variety of places. Our daughter needs to be self directed at the moment but still wants an adult nearby so her solution is to try to get one of us to come with her. We of course resist and either go about our own work or try to direct her into another task.

Directing her into another task produces the best immediate result and for a while peace reigns throughout the house. Unfortunately we are once again reverting to civilised parenting techniques whereby we rob our kids of the ability to think for themselves and to learn about themselves. What our daughter is doing when she is bored is entering a ‘search pattern’ of behaviour. She is trying to find her own way and then we come along and treat her like she can’t figure out things for herself and give her an officially sanctioned activity to do. The central message of this approach is that she couldn’t possibly know what is right and therefore needs someone in authority to direct her.

This message is one of the most insidious that a child receives and one that John Taylor Gatto emphasises in his writings. Next time you’re at an adventure playground where under-fives are playing – go and observe the parents, in my experience they will almost all be telling their kids where to climb next rather than letting them explore. The constant dishing out of instructions seems to be almost instinctual amongst modern parents.

Now, at last, to the positive side of the post. The village vision/fantasy I have is that there will be the options necessary for self directed play. Children can play where ever they like; little kids can play in the central areas which most of the buildings look out to, the older ones can go explore the forest up the back of the village land (or the older ones can take the younger ones to explore the forest). Alternatively they can go hang out with adults doing work in the gardens and learn how to do permaculture, or they can stay inside and help an adult with whatever is going on there. They could go hang out with the elders and listen to stories or perhaps they will have arranged for one of the adults to teach them something that day and there will be a group doing that.

We are determined that we want nothing to do with organised schooling but worry that home-schooling could be as stressful as having little ones at home. Even if we make it work, it’s entirely likely that they’ll end up wanting to go to school anyway since that’s where many of their friends will be. But not if we live in a village. A village should be a safe environment and I really like the idea of just letting the kids run wild. Anything else would involve a degree of coercion and coercion is always so exhausting – for both parties concerned. I’m also very confident that children left to their own devices will learn most everything they need to know.

In the meantime, while we’re not in a village we have to work on building a community around us anyway, one where there are similar options for our kids – we’ll just have to connect up those options with out cars.


One comment

  1. The ideas in this sentence are inconsistent:

    >> Children can play where ever they like; little kids can play in the central areas which most of the buildings look out to, the older ones can go explore the forest up the back of the village land

    All you’ve done here is made a quantitative change, rather than than a qualitative change. Yes, the boundaries are bigger. The little children are limited to the central area, rather than just the house. Which is arbitrary. And then older children (definition is again arbitrary) get to explore further (with more arbitrary limits).

    From which I conclude that
    1. You’ve got it wrong and civilisation is doing it qualititatively okay, but quantitatively wrong, or
    2. You’ve got it wrong by saying that civilisation is doing it qualitatively wrong, and then going out and change your behaviour quantitatively.

    Posted by: Mike | 03/18/2006

    You’ve made a lot of assumptions with that comment – it should be clear from the rest of the posting that I DO NOT want to restrict children’s options – In fact that is the whole point of what I am saying. Even the bit you reposted started with the comment ‘Children can play where they like’. It said nothing aboutrestricting them and a bit later I point out that the smaller children might go further if the older children take them with them.

    Besides this your comment that the central area is qualitatively similar to the house is quite wrong. There is clearly a greater diversity of activities if the central area is part of their play space and if you were to observe small children playing you would notice that they are generally much happier and content exploring outside than inside.

    In this case quantity IS quality because quanitity is diversity

    Posted by: Aaron | 03/18/2006

    I’d love to read and discuss, but like 99% of humanity I can’t do the white on black thing. It makes me nauseous. There’s good reason why books and magazines are printed white on black. Good luck with whatever your blog is about.

    Posted by: Skippy | 03/19/2006

    I don’t think I disagree with your position. However, I am wondering whether you have thought it through, though. Do your kids brush their teeth? Did you tell them to do it? What would you say if they didn’t want to? Are you able to reason with a three year old about brushing her teeth? Is she able to “self direct”?

    Of course, you may argue that, with a village fantasy diet, brushing teeth would not be necessary. I wouldn’t disagree. But I could find something else that you make your kids do – and would do so even in a village fantasy.

    I have not found an ‘enlightened’ parent that can reconcile the teeth brushing scenario with their own professed philosophy. The most common counter-argument that I hear is a personal attack on me. Go figure. You’d think that I found an inconsistency in their world – or something.

    At least civilised parents are honest. Force and threat of force is how everything is done. Well, maybe manipulation by positive and negative reinforcement as well. You know what I mean. “Brush your teeth, because I said so, and I am your mother”. There is a certain beauty in that logic.

    I’d love to hear your take on brushing, Aaron. Maybe have a talk to the Continuum forum?


    Posted by: Mike | 03/19/2006

    That’s too easy Mike

    We tell our daughter that we brush her teeth to stop them getting holes in them. Since she sees us brushing our teeth too she has no problem with this. Simple.

    If a parent can’t think of a reason other than because I say so then that is not beautiful logic – it is lazy logic. The beautiful part is that the parent doesnt have to exercise their tired brain to come up with a proper reason. If we find ourselves using that line we really need to stop and see if there is a genuine reason for what we want or whether we should back off and relax a bit more.

    As for thinking it through, this is an issue that I think about on a daily basis. I don’t think you have thought it through. You say ast least civilsed parents are honest. If you have read other postings on this blog you will be aware that there are cultures in this world who do not use coercion on their children and their kids are a lot better behaved than ours – and a lot happier.

    Bay all means come up with some other challange though, getting them to eat food perhaps?

    Posted by: Aaron | 03/19/2006

    Hi Aaron,

    I have an article that i’d like to send you by anthropologist E Richard Sorenson that I OCR’ed from a compilation called: “Tribal Epistemologies”. Sorenson is aware of & quotes Liedloff but his article goes on to explain, directly and by implication, why we Westerners can’t just think our way back to the reality that our ancestors discarded when they became so enamored of Abstraction. I feel the article answers many of the questions you raise in your post.

    I looked for an email address but if it’s there I wasn’t smart enough to find it.


    Posted by: Tom | 03/19/2006

    That’s because I wasn’t smart enough to put it anywhere :-)

    it’s utr at) raglan dot net dot nz

    Posted by: Aaron | 03/19/2006

    Food’s easy.

    Have a look at the book ‘A Gift of Love – The Hopewood Story’ by Jack Dunn Trop. That’ll tell you how to do food. You can download it free from the Soil and Health Library.

    And while you are there, there are plenty of references about diet and teeth. You don’t have to brush your teeth to have healthy ones.

    My next question to you is this. If you don’t have any problem getting your children to brush their teeth, then why do you have *any* problems raising your kids? It seems to me that the only areas people have problems are in the areas that they, themselves, aren’t sure about. To give you an example. I am not religious, however I have a real problem with religious parents who leave their kids to make up their own mind. These parents so fervently believe in the benefits of brushing teeth that they insist that their kids do it. But surely the child’s soul is more important than their teeth? But they don’t insist on looking after it in the same way. I think it is because the parents don’t believe it themselves.

    In the problem areas with your kids, what do you believe? And how much do you believe it?

    I think the Continuum philosophy makes this point as well. Children become restless when faced with dithering examples of adulthood. Confident displays engender respect. (my words)


    Posted by: Mike | 03/20/2006

    Religious parents leave their kids to make up their own minds about their religion because they’ve thought the issue through and they understand that forcing the religion on the kids will only produe a fake faith and they want a genuine faith for their kids. They may not have thought through the teeth issue.

    There are plenty of issues that I have not thought through, it’s impossible to be prepared for every eventuality so when unprepared I find (to my dismay) that I revert to coercion to achieve my goals. Coercion is the reflex response of civilised people.

    It’s important to note that coercion for the sake of coercion (as in, do it because I said so) is one of the ways of teaching hierarchy so we should expect to see that a lot. Parents get into trouble with this when their genuine sense of caring for their child kicks in and indeed they appear to be dithering – which as you say is not ideal.

    Posted by: Aaron | 03/20/2006

    I certainly agree with you that coercion is exhausting. I can always feel when I start to do it. It’s such an ugly way to feel. My oldest is 3.5 yrs, and she, too, exhibits symptoms of captivity sickness. ‘Mad house’ is an apt description of my home in the late afternoon and evening.

    I, too, struggle with reconciling life within civilization with a ‘continuum’ way of life. I’m living in an apartment, and trying to find meaning in life to share with my children, but the things we do are distanced from basic survival activities, so I wonder if my daughters’ stress is significantly caused by our lack of purpose and lack of close connections with other people. I’m not about to send them to school though, unless they choose it for themselves.

    Posted by: sara | 03/24/2006

    Hey Sara

    Thanks for the comments you left here and elsewhere.

    I’m really curious to know how people cope living in an apartment with kids. I don’t know anyone who is doing this and I imagine it to be impossible. If we have more than a couple of rainy days in a row we start to go crazy and start hanging out for good weather

    Posted by: Aaron | 03/24/2006

    Regarding apartment living: we’re new to it. We downsized on possessions to fit a smaller living space, and we are inspired to spend more time outside. For the most part, it’s not so different.

    Posted by: sara | 03/25/2006

    Hi there. I see where you are coming from. Part of your problem is that you just don’t have enough kids. We have four boys, ranging in age from 1 to almost 7. We also have a very protective dog and we live in a place with lots of kids around. They just go outside and amuse themselves. We usually end up with about 6/7 kids playing at our place. If anything goes wrong the bigger kids will tell us. If any leave the property then the dog goes with them (okay, we’ve had the odd search, but they were always found safe and well and wondering why we adults turned up).

    As your kids move through their social development they’ll be just fine. Right now you’ve got a stage of wanting dad/mum around because you’re their best friend.

    Big families really are worth it. Our kids pine without their brothers around. No sibling issues, they’re a great bunch of mates. (If we tell one off, the other three stick up for him. We’re out numbered :)

    Posted by: Tess | 03/31/2006

    Ah yes, this is the solution to nuclear families whereby you create your own tribe. Initially I wanted to have lots of children but right now the mere thought of another baby leaves me feeling exhausted. Once again the solution is village living – in this way there are lots of children around but the hard work of raising them is shared by many adults

    Posted by: Aaron | 03/31/2006

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