I don’t buy newspapers or magazines as a rule, but since the start of the year, while researching publishing options for my creative writing, I’ve been buying family, lifestyle and travel magazines, as well as weekend newspapers, to get a feel for style and content, and to figure out which publications would be the most suitable vehicles for my growing folder of half-written articles.
I’ve been struck by the moral tone of many of the parenting magazines, where every contributer, no matter what the topic, feels the need to announce her ‘attachment parenting’ credentials, declaring herself a breastfeeder, baby-wearer, co-sleeper, as if these three basic elements of caring for babies and toddlers have not been the normal state of affairs for our species for its entire history, and continue to be the normal (and only) method of raising children for the vast majority of parents on the planet today. These mothers – for the contributors to these ‘parenting’ magazine are invariably mothers – seem to think that breastfeeding, carrying our babies against our bodies, and sleeping with our babies beside us is some novel form of alternative child-rearing invented by middle-class, enviro-warrior British yummy-mummies.
On Saturday morning, Julian and I were tired. We felt as if we’d been going non-stop for two weeks. We’d had early mornings and sleepless nights as all four of us nursed colds, sore throats and sniffles. Julian had worked two weekends in a row on Carina, and I’d had to make up for a day of work lost to a bad head cold by working on and off over the weekend while home alone with the girls. So, when Saturday morning dawned, we were feeling lazy and lethargic.
‘Inspired’ by these hippy parenting magazines I jokingly suggested to Julian that we ‘free range parent’ for the weekend. We both giggled at the prospect. But we turned the girls loose and let them do exactly as they wished for the day. As we lay in bed, listening to the rattle of crockery and the opening of kitchen drawers downstairs, we had to remind each other ‘remember…we’re free ranging today’. They brought us breakfast in bed – raisins in bowls and tea made with water from the hot tap. But for the most part, they ignored us while they played happily together.
I’m not suggesting that we usually micro-manage their every move. Far from it. They’re quite often left to their own devices. But on Saturday we took things to a whole new level, just leaving them to it, not suggesting anything to them, helping them out only when they came to us to ask for help. We didn’t get involved in their petty squabbles, of which there were relatively few; instead leaving them to work things out for themselves. After going downstairs to make breakfast, I went back to bed, and at 12.45, Julian and I were still in bed, reading and listening to the radio – weekend luxuries we hadn’t enjoyed since the girls were born!
They’ve both been attending school this winter, so every morning we’re in a race against the clock to get them fed, dressed and ready for school, and every evening ensuring they get to bed early enough to get a good night’s sleep. And it’s easy to let the management required at the start and end of the day spill over into the rest of our lives.
When I think back to last summer, to the five months we lived aboard Carina, Lily and Katie developed a wonderful relationship, precisely because we took a step back and left them to it. I’m looking forward to April, when we return to that way of living again, unrestrained by schedules and timetables.
So, despite our giggles and eye-rolling, perhaps there is something free-range in the way we strive to raise our kids after all. Now, the question remains: Will I have to flash my breastfeeding, baby-wearing, and occasional co-sleeping credentials if I have any hope of getting published?