Children And Freedom: How Much Is Too Much?

09/12/2015 8:52 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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Family with son and daughter (6-7) in park

For my son AB, from daylight to twilight my presence is imperative; even if I'm not with him I have to be around, somewhere close by. If he does not see me for 15 minutes, he seeks me out like a little hunter.

But something unusual occurred on a recent weekend. As my husband and I got ready for our usual weekly grocery shopping, we asked him playfully (thinking we knew the answer), "Want to join us?" Pat came the reply: "No Mama, I'll stay home."

This was very unexpected. The boy loves these outings and can't bear to be away from me for more than a few minutes. But we respected his wish and headed off without him, though the experience seemed a little sombre without his perennial presence.

Freedom. According to Wiki, Freedom is "the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants. It is a sacred and inalienable right that all human beings possess. It is the power to act according to one's will, while respecting the law and the rights of others."

Such was this six-year-old's need or innate desire for freedom that we was willing to forego an outing and time with his parents...

But our shopping trip was not as smooth as usual. I got a call from my father while we were in the middle of my expedition. Come home soon, he said, AB is being unruly and creating a fuss.

Left with no choice, that's what we did, giving him the usual lecture about civilised behaviour upon our return. We also asked him why he'd chosen to stay home instead of coming with us as usual. The six-year-old had a ready answer: "I wanted to do whatever I like, without any no." This no hindered his freedom.

So, what was it that he wanted to do without the inconvenient no coming in the way, we asked. He responded with a ready list:

1. Play all the time with no schedule, particularly sleep times. ("Why can't we not sleep, Mama?")

2. Play and make a mess without being told to tidy up.

3. No study time.

4. More and more cartoon time.

5. Have the liberty to spray the wall with the hand shower (his latest hobby).

Such was this six-year-old's need or innate desire for freedom that we was willing to forego an outing and time with his parents just for the opportunity to exercise his free will. His choice to stay home was as simple as that.

Now comes the tricky and unavoidable question for every parent: How much freedom should a child be given?

Like most parents all I care for is my child's safety, well being and well-rounded growth and development. Most of our decisions are informed by these three cardinal factors.

Childhood is often idealised as a time that is magical and carefree, a breezy realm of simple, innocent delights unmarred by fears of the future. Ask most people to tell you the most treasured moments of their life, and you'll be likely to be offered a glimpse into their childhood. I yearn to give that kind of childhood to my kid.

I am truly inspired by this one quote by Mahatma Gandhi: "Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes."

What if we totally clamp down on our children's freedoms, for fear that they may come to harm? Surely, they will make fewer mistakes. But fewer mistakes will mean less learning. How does that fit into our primary role as parents -- that to nurture the child so that he or she becomes a self-sustaining human being?

When it comes to parenting, there's no magic pill or easy way out. I feel that a parent is like a juggler. With practice and years into it, we succeed but then we cannot totally be failure-proof as we are dealing with other lives, wills, desires.

My little boy will always cherish those moments of simple freedoms and joys if once in a while we provide him the opportunity to explore new dimensions and activities in his own independent way, ensuring of course that he is safe and has a support system around him.

I am not against discipline - it is a must for any child to grow into a balanced and responsible adult. However, I do not believe in discipline that is based on retribution, dominance, punitiveness and restriction. I believe in discipline that focuses more on guidance, being consistent, mentoring or acting as a role model (walking the talk, essentially) and setting pragmatic rules for them to follow, which in turn will help them in coping with real life issues as they grow up.

Discipline must be balanced with a healthy dose of freedom and pure unconditional parental love...

Discipline for kids in that sense should be a method of instilling or inculcating important life skills and making them well equipped with practical knowledge to face the challenges ahead.

This discipline must be balanced with a healthy dose of freedom and pure unconditional parental love - this is the mix that will aid a child to make responsible and sensible choices in life under any circumstances.

And that's what freedom stands for -- it's not only an individual right but one that recognises and respects others' freedom too. Freedom comes with the duty to make morally responsible choices.

A verse from the noted poet Khalil Gibran's poem "On Children" sums it up beautifully:

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow.

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