When I had but my first babe-in-arms, I went to the apartment of my girlfriend, who then had a toddler. I watched in amazement as he toodled up to their DVD player and started putting dimes in it. I nodded quickly in his direction expecting intervention, but she just smiled and said she didn’t really care. Later she told me that she didn’t now what was the right balance between giving children freedom to explore and establishing boundaries, but she was pretty sure she didn’t have it . But she erred on the former, because it was really important to her that her kids be in possession of themselves.
Now the earth has travelled around the sun a few times, and I watch myself as I allow my boys to do as much as I dare in the house. They are allowed to climb on counters and stools, jump on the couch, cook with me, and generally run roughshod over our space. My husband, a squash player, used to swing racquets in the kitchen with our first son, and said racquets would smash into the cupboards we had just installed in our ktichen reno. The kids can get as dirty as they can outside, and often do, which means that a good bit of it inevitably comes inside. They can re-arrange my pantry when playing store, do messy painting and crafting indoors, and scratch the wood floors with toys and sticks.
There are no adults-only parts of our house. Just as some people pride themselves on having such spaces, I pride myself on not having them. Part of this is just practical, as we live in a small house and cordoning off any part of it would just shrink it further. But mostly I really want to foster a sense of family inclusiveness, to instill in my children an unquestioned knowledge that they are an absolutely integral part of this home, to last long after they leave its four walls. To help create that sense of belonging, I have few boundaries around what they can and can’t do around here.
Like my girlfriend, I’m pretty sure I don’t have this boundary perfectly mapped out, but I’m happy to fall on the side that I do. I was reminded of this a few months ago as my three-year old wandered over to put a record on our turntable. Sometimes he can do it, and sometimes he can’t. My mother was over and kind of raised her eyebrows. But I told her that repairing the needle would cost only $35 (ask me how I know) and pointed out that lots of people would spend that much money picking up clothes or toys that their kids don’t really need, and most of us would not think twice about that expenditure. In other words, extravagance when it comes to children is not just in the eye of the beholder, but also sways according to social norms.
Little did I know that when I gawked in amazement at my friend’s coin-laden DVD player years ago, I was in fact absorbing a parenting lesson. Our turntable is, alas, broken – we haven’t made the time to take it to the repair shop. But we will, and when we do, I’ll remind my three year old how to use it. And when our favourite songs come on, we’ll sing to them together.