I shall be talking parenting styles in here. It is not designed to challenge anyone. The choices that Tilly and I have made we have made together and we made them because they worked for us. I respect everyone's right to make any decisions regarding parenting that work for them. What works for us just works for us. If I evangelise I do so because it works for us, it may not work for other people. Equally, I am happy to hear what other people do and will not feel challenged. Parenting is a very touchy subject, I know, but I shall talk about what we do as a record, I do not suggest that we are right or that everyone should do what we've done.
Whatever else has gone on, and wrong, in our relationship Tilly and I have been (almost) as one on the parenting front. In fact, if anything, I've been the more hippy and oddball one when it comes to the childrens. One of the only things I feel is worth boasting about bring British for is the NHS. I love the concept of free at the point of use health care from cradle to grave, I love that the 'market' is not free to set values based on what people hold dear but that, theoretically at least, this sort of thing is left to experts. It doesn't always work as it should but I love it anyway. Yeah, it costs a lot of public money, but it's worth it. Kinda like a well-meaning family member who gambles too much and falls in with the wrong crowd but always loves you and wants to do right by you. You know the sort of person I mean. The NHS is like that. Sure it has its issues but I love it anyway.
We got rid of our bed. Seems like an odd place to start for co-sleeping, but we'd worked it out. We bought three over-sized single mattresses, latex, and laid them on the floor. We bought an extra duvet. Tilly knitted another blanket. We anticipated the eldest joining us in bed again, despite having been sleep trained in another room.
When the Boy was born, at home, I felt empowered in a way that I did not when looked after by the NHS. I felt part of the process. Tilly commented that she felt I was part of the process in a way that I was not when the eldest was born. While Tilly dealt with the afterbirth I slept with the Boy in our enormous nine-and-a-bit foot wide, seven foot long bed. As we had assumed, eldest did join us once more. Now it's over two years later. Eldest has retreated from bed-sharing partly because she fidgeted too much but mainly because she accepted that she slept better in her own bed. And I have the Boy. This is to night-wean. When I mentioned this originally I think I came out all wrong. Yes, I hate the fact that my alarm has relegated me to the sofa and the timing of the night-weaning was a few days the wrong side of being okay. But, and this is crucial, Tilly and I made the decision together. And helping the Boy to sleep tonight was worth it. He'll likely be with us for at least another year or two - I've heard tales of some staying until they're seven - but the average is for them to leave, voluntarily, at around age four. Some part of me dreads that. Why? Because I ended up tearing up with emotion, positive emotion, as I helped him to sleep last night. I didn't do much, just whispering to him and looking at his eyes as we both lay down next to one another, telling him how much he was loved just for the simple fact of being. I mean, I can be proud of what he does, but I lve him because... well, because he's the Boy. I love my eldest just as much because she's my eldest, if you get what I mean. I love them for being. And expressing that as they drift to sleep... I can think of no better way.
Now, you might think that this is what's causing the elongated dry patch. No, that's down to breastfeeding. Again, this is a decision that Tilly and I took together. I was keen for Tilly to breastfeed. We didn't think about how long this would be for but we knew that a decreased libido would likely be the result (not for everyone, some people have heightened libido) and that we wanted to do it approximately as long as it needed to be done. It wasn't until the eldest was about six months that we thought we ought to know what to expect and how long was too long. Scientifically the results shocked us at first. But, me first and Tilly following, we came to the conclusion that all that mattered were our opinions on how long. Eldest stopped at eighteen months. The Boy is still going after over two years. We both know that he will decide when he's had enough and we'll be on hand to facilitate that move. It does make things hard and I do know that the breastfeeding isn't all of it. Tilly has referenced often enough that I don't make her want sex at all for a variety of reasons - I have no way of knowing if she was being truthful or deliberately hurtful - and the time since we last made love, as opposed to simply having sex, has stretched on for the best part of five years now but I did go into this with eyes about as open as I could imagine. So, though I feel justified in grumbling and feeling hard done to on this matter I can't say I wasn't warned. I guess my main beef is the lack of love-making rather than sex. Hell, even to be close physically would be nice, but Tilly has made it clear that having children crawling over her all the time makes her less than willing to be cuddled or kissed by me. The reasons change, but the overall effect is the same. I think I can safely say that the parenting approach is not to blame at any rate.
Indeed, this is the parenting style that we've gone with. Not a conscious choosing - like we read the books and decided which approach to adopt - more something we've happened upon, found has a whole bunch of names and works for us. We don't do everything any one book says, indeed, most of what we do I don't even know if it's in a book. I see our role, in our family, as facilitators. I can't always do it right. I revert to my own upbringing, Tilly to hers too, but mainly me reverting to the structured, stand-offish and arbitrary upbringing I recieved from my own parents. It worked for them. Maybe not me.
This has extended to their schooling. I have pushed for less mainstream educational options since they were born. We moved to the least structured kindergarten we could find and then went to Steiner. From there we have moved toward home schooling and, in that, we are drifting slowly toward the 'unschooling' method. I haven't done as much research as Tilly has on that, but I have read a few frightening articles on what education is at present and, being immersed in it, have seen my own faith in the system wane.
I like the concept of state schooling. I think the noble goal of having one local educational provider and abolishing class that way is a good one. I like that all students have the same grounding and equality of opportunity. However, I am watching this turn sourer. I do not believe that private funded educational provision is a good thing. I was itchy about Steiner for that reason. But I worry about the sausage factory that education is increasingly becoming. Where evidence trails, targets and standardised tests increasingly dominate school time and a cascade of strange adults teach nuggets of unconnected information to the tyranny of bells. If you can't evidence that something has happened then it didn't happen and if the results aren't capable of being put into a computer database then they are irrelevant.
My guiding principle as a teacher has been to make students happier and more confident. I have not really bothered about their results. At least, not to their faces. Their results are more important to my job than they are to their future lives. I have always been honest to them about that - it's why I'm not untouchable at work, my results are not shit-hot - and I think I've made some difference somewhere and mainly in ways that cannot be measured. But, of course, I would say that.
So it is that we have edged toward home schooling. It is a decision that Tilly and I have taken together. I don't like the ramifications for my own work - but that's mainly because of the dichotomy of it. I'm an adherent to Gandhi's philosophy on this (though, as a historian, I recognise that he didn't always get it even remotely right): "Be the change you want to see in the world". He couldn't tell a boy to give up sugar as unhealthy until he himself had done the same. These things resonate with me. So why, if we are choosing home schooling, do I work on in the sausage factory?
The point of all of this? I guess it's to record that, in amongst all the bad lately, there are things that Tilly and I have done together that I remain committed to. And that some of the decisions that appear ludicrous have at least been made by both of us, largely with me as the engine and the driving factor. I would defend them if called to do so but I hope I've just set them out here, for they are our decisions and everyone will have their own needs and hopes and so they aren't for everyone.