Sunday, December 09, 2007

The end of autonomy?

Like many other home educators, I've managed - against the odds - to carve a bubble of freedom out of this increasingly totalitarian world, in which my children could grow up. Well, one of them is now legally grown-up and two others almost are. (In actual fact, all three teens have been grown up for some years now even though the law disagrees.) And up until very recently I'd been assuming they would just slot seamlessly back into the mainstream way of doing things - or something close. By this I mean that I would start asking them to pay for their keep and they would then have to go and find work, or some other source of funding from somewhere. Or that they would move out and start to be completely independent of me and I them. Most of my family members, including these three children's father (my ex-husband) believe that parenting stops when the child reaches the age of maturity. After that, the adult child takes on a position rather like a concerned family friend, in the best case scenario. Or a distant cousin, in the worst. This, I think, is how society and the present economy needs us to think at this stage in a family's life.

But, as with baby cots and bottles, forced schooling and all the other taken-for-granted anti-family mechanisms, my instincts screamed out against it.

The thing is this: I've always said there's nothing magical about an eighteenth birthday. It doesn't make a person suddenly different, so why should they arbitrarily be awarded a whole raft of rights and responsibilities [*yawns* at the GovernmentSpeak] that they didn't have at seventeen? Furthermore, do I suddenly stop being their parent overnight as they reach the age of eighteen? No. Nothing changes.

That's not to say all my children have been babied by me up until their eighteenth birthdays and I want to continue doing so. There'd be something distinctly unhealthy about that, if it were the case. But growing up is a slow and natural process, not a juddery sudden one. My three teens have grown up gradually at their own paces and are now all equally capable of going out and earning a living if they want or need to. I don't treat the boys any differently just because one is eighteen and the other is seventeen and nor, I've decided, am I going to make any different expectations of them.

How can I say to one of my children, whom I still love just as much as all my other children: "Now you must go out to work and give me money to pay for your keep, or you'll have to leave your family home."? Especially after all those years of autonomy. I've never asked anything of them. They've always given freely, and to be fair to them they do plan to contribute to the household budget when the time comes. They are all sensible, fair minded, hard working people.

It's me. I'm increasingly seeing school, college and jobs as being one and the same thing. They're all ok if the person genuinely does want to take part, but if there's any coercion involved - any feeling of having no choice, or being trapped - then they're tantamount to slavery and tend to be the cause of a miserable existence.

I want to keep providing choices for my children, which has made me think very laterally and creatively looking for solutions. I want them to have the option of staying in their family home. I can remember being pushed out of my family home as an older teenager and it was a horrible experience which caused nothing but harm for all concerned. Sure, there's nothing wrong with a person striking out for independence but ideally this would be done in the person's own time and not be instigated by other people or factors.

My instinct, my thinking and my years of research all teach me that it's healthier for people to live together in family tribes than in isolated nuclear units.

Also as a single parent of younger children, I feel myself being socially engineered to make childcare and school arrangements for our little ones and to go out to "work". (I put "work" in inverted commas, because I know from when I used to "work" that the activity is a sight easier, in terms of effort, than staying at home with younger children. And I resent the implication that I'm not "working" already, by raising and home educating them. Somehow we've come to accept that an activity can only be called "work" if it pays money, therefore other activities are somehow not legitimate. How did we come to that way of thinking?) And I don't want to be socially engineered any more than I want to abandon my younger children on a daily basis, any more than I want to shoulder my older children out of their home.

Essentially, I'm being asked to dismantle my family. Coerced actually, with Brown's famous carrot and stick. I refuse to comply.

It's all about the money isn't it? Those little pictures of the Queen (or increasingly not even that). Well, we're now working towards a situation here where we don't need much of it at all coming in on a weekly basis. We think it will probably involve selling our house and building another one in which we can live off-grid and mortgage-free, which will involve a vast amount of upheaval and inconvenience. But it will be worth it.

Anyone selling a piece of land in Yorkshire? :-)


Blogger Clare said...

That's exactly what we'd love to do - but getting the capital in the first place is the problem for us...and paying two mortgages/rent & mortgage while the building happens would be a problem. We need to get thinking creatively - there *must* be a way!

9:43 am, December 09, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

We're just planning to live in two mobile homes on-site while the building goes up Clare. That's what I meant by upheaval and inconvenience!

9:45 am, December 09, 2007  
Blogger ruth said...

Dh would love to build an eco house. We discussed it last night. I think for now tho we are going to look at using solar power and wood burners before we make the leap. One of the reasons we are buying a bigger house now is cos the whole family can stay together with no pressure to move out. People have commented how odd it is we are upsizing when I have an 18 year old and a nearly 17year old cos "They should be off my hands by now" ( the inference is they should have been at about 9months but that is a whole blog rant in itself lol) but we don't see it like that at all. I would be happy for them and any partners they have and children to live with us.

12:37 pm, December 09, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Oh I didn't know you were thinking along those lines too, Ruth! Yes I hate that 'Off your hands' sentiment - as if children are nothing but trouble. Then people wonder why such children play up a bit.

1:02 pm, December 09, 2007  
Blogger Bridget said...

We feel the same, I never want my children to leave, I would take it as a compliment that they didn't want to leave home and we would love it if our children lived with their partners with us, it would be our "ideal world" A little community all helping each other, loving and respecting each other.

2:15 pm, December 09, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Bridget - that's exactly what I'm hoping for. If any of the children don't want to go along with it, that's fine too. But they all think it's a great idea ATM.

I'm also looking forward to all the endless conversations between them about new off-grid gadgets instead of/as well as the usual PC/IPod/Software type ones!

3:32 pm, December 09, 2007  
Blogger Lisa G said...

Gill, that was a really interesting post and I must say has given me real food for thought. My children are a little younger than your teens, but I have vague thoughts now and then about the future and your post has helped clarify how I feel. I never want to push the children out and if they want to stay that would be great, they will always be welcome, it's their home too and because of the way they have been brought up, I have no doubt that they will contribute financially, when they are able and I like the idea of a family community. The idea of living off the grid is certainly appealing and I hope you find a way to make that work.

9:02 pm, December 09, 2007  
Blogger Elaine said...

Oh I do hope you do it because sometines it takes 1 to make the leap before others gain the confidence to follow

11:48 pm, December 09, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Thanks Lisa, I'm glad you found it interesting. Yes, the idea will be great if we can manage it. It seems like such a BIG step though, at this stage! But we've decided to try our best to get there anyway.

Elaine, I don't mean to be a trailblazer! I just try and work out what's best for me and mine, like everyone else does. But yes I really hope we manage it too!

8:16 am, December 10, 2007  
Blogger Lucy said...

I keep wishing my parents had a bigger house so we could all move back in. When my smallest was still in a moses basket the four of us lived with them. As soon as we moved out my brother moved backed in.

3:01 am, December 11, 2007  
Blogger Lucy said...

Thanks for writing this - it echoes my own thoughts too. I remember feeling very scared about having to earn my own living before I was ready and hence ended up doing things that made me unhappy... never want my kids to feel that.

3:29 am, December 11, 2007  
Blogger Allie said...

Our kids are still fairly young, but I do think about those late teen years and wonder what they'll want to do. I wouldn't push them out, of course, but I'd also hate them to feel that they didn't have the space to go and do whatever they wanted with their lives - even if that meant being on the other side of the world to me. I know that at eighteen/nineteen I was ready for a move away from home. Horses for courses, I guess.

I do have an issue about shared finances and the work of running a home. I feel like it might be possible to just continue with patterns that you have established when people are children (like washing their clothes or picking up their messes) forever. Equally, being the one who sees to it that there is food on the table or council tax is paid. I feel like my kids will need me to give them the message that they *can* manage such stuff - by not just seeing to it myself forever. I'm not at all sure how that process will unfold, but I do hope it does!

Personally, I wouldn't have wanted to live with my family of origin forever. I really enjoyed living alone, later with D, and then as a family of four. I love my family of origin and see a lot of them, but I need more space and privacy than a shared home could provide.

10:38 am, December 11, 2007  
Blogger ruth said...

Yes we are thinking along those lines but land is the issue:( The children have all agreed in principle they want to stay in some sort of extended home in the future. Of course that is open to change at any time and even if they like the idea any partners they have may not. ( imagine living with your MIL :)) I think we are really close and that is unusual nowadays but nice. I left home at 17 ( on my birthday lol)and would have been horrified at staying any longer but the hierachy thing was strong with the "while you are in my house you will/will not do" mentality ruling supreme. Our family is not on them lines at all. We are all equals.I do take Allie's point about forever picking up after them but my older ones do much for themselves now and contribute financially when they can. Even B can keep his room tidy:) I do think we are unusual tho and I do think the government would hate it if it became the norm.

1:40 pm, December 11, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

Hourses for courses indeed. I really don't expect all - or even necessarily any - of my 5 to want to stay home for ever. I just want it to be an option for them, as it wasn't for me. Somewhere secure to fall back on. I suppose I'm constantly trying to provide them with what I think would have made my life better. Is that what parents always do?

7:58 am, December 12, 2007  
Blogger Schuyler said...

I hope, so very much hope, that Simon and Linnaea will choose to walk out whenever they are ready to walk out. I was pushed out. I can remember sleeping in cars and sneaking in through friends' bedroom windows so their parents wouldn't know and so I didn't have to sleep out somewhere. I can remember sleeping in closets and going from party to party so that I could sleep there. In retrospect my mom calls it tough love and recommended it to a friend. I had never told her about the near rapes and the scary bits. I told her when she told me she'd recommended kicking a child out who wasn't behaving appropriately.

18 is really no different from 17. It may be the age of majority, but it doesn't make you wiser or more capable or better able to do anything than being 17 did or than being 19 might. And abandoning a child of 18, or forcing them to pay their way, says a lot of negative things about adulthood, and would seem to negate a lot of the positive things you may have said about parenting.

10:52 am, December 17, 2007  
Blogger Gill said...

I had similar experiences Schuyler. All unnecessary and unpleasant, but I don't think my parents really enjoyed the job and so were pleased when we reached less dependent ages.

I'm glad you filled yours in on the missing information in the end, so she doesn't have to give out such questionable advice!

2:12 pm, December 17, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Money is just a symbol of value and a tool of trade. That you are not paid to raise your own children it's because it's *you* who values them and you are not trading a service.

11:14 am, March 06, 2009  
Blogger Gill said...

Where did I say I wanted to be paid to raise my own children?

The government makes the cost of living artificially high, therefore the government needs to supplement people's income to enable them to survive. It's not a good system, but it's the one we've got here, until it changes.

I hope it does change, but the cost of living needs to drop significantly first.

7:55 am, March 11, 2009  

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