This afternoon I spoke at an event called ‘Taking Play Seriously’ in Melbourne, with a mixed audience of professionals, volunteers and parents. It followed my talk last week here at the Playgroup Australia conference. In the Q & A afterwards, one attendee – a local government employee and mother of three – told the audience how she had heard me speak last Thursday. Then two days later, her 10-year-old son had asked her if he could go to the local skatepark on his own.
She explained that she was all cued up to say ‘no’ – but then she recalled my talk. So after a chat with her son about being sensible, she said ‘yes’. That evening, she caught sight of her child’s status update on Facebook. The post said ‘this was the best day of my life’.
I am very clear that I am no ‘parenting guru’. Indeed I think there are too many people trying to tell parents how to bring their children up, and I do not want to join that gang. But I do not mind saying that I welled up a little as she told that story. Nor that I am welling up now as I type it. I’m proud that my work has reached people’s lives in such a direct, powerful way. I want to share that pride with everyone who reads this blog, because I suspect you too recognise that feeling you get when you see that your actions are truly making a difference.
I have one more thing to say. Yes, the anecdote was an affirmation for me, and hopefully an inspiration for others. Yet I will be honest. My dream is that these gifts of freedom are not rare gems to be treasured and celebrated, but part of the everyday currency of family life.
Tim, it’s always good to stop for a moment and treasure these special moments.
Your story reminds me of a few years ago when I was managing a new skatepark project for the local authority. I arranged a meeting in the council chamber for the local youths who were campaigning for the park to be built. Around two dozen young men (sadly, no girls) aged I think between 14 and 26 turned up, plus a couple of mums with ten-year-old boys dressed in all the right gear. There were design presentations which led on to a general discussion between the bmx fans and the boarders. Everyone worked really hard to reach a settlement that worked for all, from beginners to the experienced, and for both bmx and skateboard. The mums were so reassured by the sensible way these young people handled themselves that they were willing to let their boys go to the park (on land in the centre of town gifted by the railway company and a well known supermarket) on their own. The grand opening was a great day for all. Gifts of freedom indeed!
This process is not best described in terms of ‘rare gems’ or ‘common currency’. It is more a case of ‘pass it on’. We all know that we tend to do to and for out children much the same as out parents did to and for us. By allowing you child the freedom to encounter personal responsibility the more likely they will do the same to their children.
Gandhi probably summed it up best with his philosophy of ‘Be the change you want to see.’
Marcus – thanks for this reminder of Gandhi’s remark – spot on.
Marcus: googling to check the source of your Gandhi quote, I discover from an article in the NY Times that it is doubtful he ever said it. Not that this undermines its force. But I thought you might be interested.
I especially love that a ‘no’ was replaced by a conversation. What a great moment for them to understand each other. It’s amazing how much can come from shifting a ‘no’ to a conversation!
We have had a perspective on this sort of thing from the other end, trying to encourage our adopted son (9 yo, he’s been with us since he was 7 1/2 and who used to be, in the words of his social worker, “frightened of his own shadow”) to get out there on his own a little more.
One aspect of this taking control for himself is rather than ask us if he can go out and play, to *tell* us he’s going out to play and where he’ll be.
It’s gradually filtering through and this morning was one of the first instances where he came right out with “I’m going up to play at the circle” rather than be informed he doesn’t actually need to ask.
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