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To My Dear Self,

Seven years into unschooling parenthood, I have realised that probably the most important love letter I can send on Valentines Day is one to my very own self.

So, here goes. Let me count the ways…

  1. I love how I am rediscovering my own identity after years of having intentionally put myself to the side in order to meet the needs of my babies and then young children. More and more I can feel myself coming to share the fore, exploring myself and my passions and interests, and making them a priority.
  2. I love my body, in all it’s glory. It has experienced two pregnancies, two births, the physical toll of carrying, breastfeeding, and co-sleeping, plus all of the physical work involved in day to day family life with young children. Having shared it for a long time it is starting to feel like my own again and I love it without condition from top to toe.
  3. I love my mind and the thinking work I have done over the past 7 years and continue to do. First thinking about my pregnancies and births, making informed choices for myself and my babies, informing myself as fully and critically as possible. Then thinking critically about parenthood and childhood, really thinking about my children, spending time with them, observing them and their needs, working out how to best support them in navigating this world. I love myself for having prioritised that process, and for continuing to do so.
  4. I love that I am committed to being true to myself, and to not giving in to societal norms when the are in conflict with my ethics, and the best interests and wellbeing of myself and my family. I love myself for toughing it out, going against the grain when necessary, and for living with the greatest integrity and authenticity that I can.
  5. I love that I have tried, that I have made mistakes, and that I have sought to acknowledge and reflect on those mistakes in order to develop and grow. That I have practiced self-forgiveness and self-love, and endeavour to model that for my children so that they feel free to love themselves as fully as possible too. I love that I have compromised and changed my mind when that has been the right thing to do.
  6. I love the personal boundaries that I am working towards. That I feel worthy to be mindful of my experiences, to say no, to stop doing things that don’t work for me and to protect myself when necessary. I love that I am taking responsibility for my own life and experiences, and acknowledging my needs and limits.
  7. And finally, I love that, despite everything, my commitment, courage and passion to do the work in this life that I need to do, is stronger than ever.

Happy Valentine’s Day. xxxx

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A Love Letter to My Self on Valentine’s Day

Consent Based Education: What can a flock of Spanish geese tell us about schooling?

 

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Let’s take a few moments to think about what it means that schools are compulsory and coercive environments and not consensual ones. To do this, we need to think about the many compulsory layers that exist within schools.

Firstly, there is showing up. Unless home educating, young people have to attend school. There is no choice, it is compulsory, and failing to attend is a big issue with attendance data highly monitored. School being a place that you ‘have to be’ is the baseline of a person’s relationship with their school and education.

Then there is the compulsory participation within the school day. Students have to be in certain places at certain times, as decided by the teachers and school leadership. Their time during the day is rigidly structured in terms of the places they are allowed to go, and what they are allowed to do within those places. Again, compliance with this is compulsory, with deviation carrying the risk of punitive consequences.

Within this are further compulsory aspects. What information is offered, what, when and how students interact with that subject matter. Students are not given the opportunity to consent to what and when they are taught, and their participation in lessons is compulsory – you can’t just sit quietly at the back waiting for what you want to learn, you must tune in regardless of whether you actually want to or not.

Part of the reason for some of this highly managed and non-consensual environment is practical. There are large numbers of students in an environment that is designed for classroom based teacher-led learning, and so it can be said under their current design, a degree of structure and organisation is necessary to ensure everyones safety. Some of the compulsory nature necessitated by restrictions resulting from testing and imposed curriculum requirements.

There are other reasons as to why consent is absent in schooling, to do with beliefs and mindsets about young people and learning. These beliefs inform policy and everyday school life.

Some people believe that school and learning is ‘bad medicine’ that will only be taken if a person has no choice. That ‘education’ and/or ‘learning’ is only possible if children are forced into it. Some people believe that given the choice, children wouldn’t sit in that classroom.

Maybe there is some truth in that, when considering what is currently offered as ‘education’. Unlike teachers who can leave a school, or leave the profession, students can not talk with their feet. It’s impossible to say how many would show up given the choice, and how essential coercion is to the functioning of schools as they currently stand.

The fear within schools, that given the choice, students wouldn’t voluntarily show up, either to school at all, or to particular classes, is very real. It even prevents some schools from granting students free access to the toilet during the school day – the fear that a student would prefer to sit in a toilet cubicle than in a classroom.

To me, this fear and ‘bad medicine’ idea is telling us something very important. If people wouldn’t actively consent to being there and to participating, we have an epic problem that needs resolving.

There is a farmer in Spain called Eduardo Sousa, who produces foie gras without force-feeding his geese. His geese help themselves to enough of what they need, through their own choosing, to self-create some of the best fois gras in the world. No forcing, they do it through their own choice. They do it consensually.

His geese aren’t even penned in. They are free to leave at any time, should they wish to. Only, his geese don’t want to leave. Wild geese flying overhead even come down and join his flock. He has proven that it isn’t necessary to force feed geese to produce foie gras, it isn’t necessary to keep them under caged conditions either. Given the right environment and opportunities, the geese choose to be there and do it themselves, and given the space and opportunity, thrive. Some people believe you can only produce foie gras by force. Eduardo has shown that that isn’t true.

Some people believe that learning and education require force, compulsion, coercion. I don’t believe that to be true.

What would a school need to look like to replicate the effect of Eduardo’s farm? What environment and opportunities would you need to offer in order for students to actively consent to being there? What if students could choose with their feet, and the only type of school that was sustainable was one that students chose to show up to, and chose to participate in? What would the impact on ‘learning’ be if it was happening in a consensual and personalised rather than forced relationship?

For a school to be consensual, it needs to offer freedom of movement, it needs to genuinely listen to and respect the people within it, to offer space and time, and access to things of interest and value, as perceived by the participants as well as the providers – and those can be flexible roles. It needs to be an attractive and comfortable space that people want to be in, where people are free to meet their own needs, and can reach out for support if needed.

Who wouldn’t want to show up there everyday?

 

Consent in Education

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I want to explore some ideas about consent in education. What I mean by consent in this instance, is the idea that a person be given the opportunity to consent to what instruction/direction/training/ they are exposed to/participate in, and also the idea that this consent can be withdrawn at any time.

To put this into context, lets consider reading. Currently, children are not given the opportunity to consent regarding reading. Parental choice in this regard is limited to two choices, accepting reading instruction without active consent by entering mainstream schooling, or choosing to home educate.

When a child is not in school, they can be given the opportunity to consent to the ‘teaching of reading’ and/or the act of reading itself. They can also be given information that will help them to make an informed choice about reading, such as evidence based information about the broad range of ages for reaching developmental readiness for reading. Their own lived experience will likely influence their views on and interest in consenting to read.  They can consent to reading as and when it feels right and appropriate to them.

Within schooling, no consent is sought, in fact mainstream schooling requires that intellectual or educational consent (which term is best I am not yet sure) is not sought. It is a system that is coercion dependent, and it uses an infrastructure of punishment and reward to facilitate and reinforce the coercive environment.

But why should it be acceptable that intellectual/educational consent be absent? Some may argue that a child is too young to be able to make a decision about consent, that asking them to do so would be age inappropriate and that adults should be trusted to make the decisions on their behalf.

To that I pose the question, are we not then doing something too soon? Would it not make sense to wait until time at which a child can make a consensual decisions, and in the mean time facilitate an environment in which for the most part children can demonstrate consent through their play choices? When schooling in some countries doesn’t commence until a child is 7 years old, we can be confident in saying that children will not be missing out intellectually or educationally by not being put through non-consensual ‘education’ in their youngest years. In my experience, by the time a child is 7 years old, especially if their life experience to that date has valued their voice and consent, they are in a position to make active and informed consensual choices about what they do in an environment designed for ‘education’.

Then we come to the barrier of fear, and negative stereotypes of children. The idea that given the freedom and opportunity, they would make bad, lazy, wrong or other negative choices. That they wouldn’t learn the right things, that they would do things in the wrong ways and so on.

But when else other than in childhood is there a better time for risk taking and mistake making? It is a fallacy to believe that there is only one magic moment to learn specific things. We know this as adults as we keep building our own knowledge banks, changing our minds, developing new skills and constantly shaping our world views based on new information that becomes available. Learning is a life long endeavour, the sense of rush and strict timings is a construct, not a necessity. We could afford children far greater freedom to determine the journey of their education without causing damage to their future.

And do we not believe also that sometimes the best or even only way to learn things is through what we might perceive as mistakes? Try something, find it doesn’t work and try something else until it does work? Maybe if I do it this way, or that, or look at it from a different angle, it will make sense? What if the very process of a consensual education journey provided the richest and most longterm learning experience of all, regardless of the actual content – the ability to think critical, to gather information to make decisions, to take personal responsibility, to realise that at no time do we know everything, and at all times we can find out more.

What more honest and richer an educational journey would we make if we were only asked for our consent, and given truthful and balanced context from which to make our decisions?

In the past it has been believed that doctors should hold all information, sharing as little as possible with patients under the premise that the doctors know best and the patient need not know. Perhaps this isn’t always in the past.

In the past it has been believed that women’s consent to sex was not necessary in marriage, and that their husbands had a right to their bodies regardless of their views. Perhaps this isn’t always in the past.

Perhaps one day it will be a thing of the past to believe that the minds, the intellects of children, are not their own, but are owned by others with power over them and who know best.

Or is that now?

The Grassroots Movement Revolutionising Education

For too long discussion about improving the education system has gone on. Tweaks are made here, tweaks are made there, but at the end of it, the system remains the same, the problems and inequalities continue. The reality is, the kind of change needed to address and overcome the fundamental issues inherent in the existing system are too significant to be achieved by the usual channels. It requires a bold and imaginative new way of thinking, it involves us stepping away from the system that exists altogether.

What would you do, if you were creating a system of education anew? I’m talking about a new build, rather than a restoration. If you were starting from scratch, right here and now, what would that education system look like? What type of environment and focus would you take? How would you go about creating the optimum environment for people to self-actualise, to explore their potential?

You may be thinking, this is fanciful pie in the sky nonsense. If you work within the education system you may be tired of ‘fixes’, you may struggle to see that another way is possible. Schooling and the current system of education is all we know, it’s what we take as the only legitimate place for learning to happen, and as central to childhood experience.

However we also know that the system that exists today is fundamentally flawed. It is outdated. Gradually we are waking up to the realisation that an authoritarian system of education is an obsolete concept. As avenues for connectivity and self-study have opened up via the platform that is the world wide web, we are becoming experienced in interest-led and self-directed learning. We can find our own news, our own answers, our own solutions to problems. The current system of schooling is becoming a performance and a distraction from the new systems of education that are emerging.

Not only is the current system of education a red herring, it is also becoming more and more apparent that it is detrimental. The high stakes, competitive and standardised model works against our mental health, sense of self, and social justice. Pitting humans against each other for the duration of their most formative years of life ingrains and normalises the idea that some people are winners and some are losers, it teaches individualism rather than offering an environment ripe for experimenting, and exploring methods of cooperation. It creates a narrow, ageist, classist, ableist, sexist and racist neoliberal version of ‘success’. It is in conflict with the new sharing economy and collaborative rather than competitive ways of living and working. It is bad for our health and our concepts of work/life balance.

And this is a pressing and urgent concern for parents who are considering the options available to their own children’s education. We often hear of the importance of ‘choice’ in education, but what choice is there really when each option is based on the same dysfunctional model? What choice is there when all routes lead to the traditional model of schooling?

So here we come, back to the concept of a new-build system. As the arguments for opting in to the existing model fall flat, we have not only a problem, but a great opportunity. What is possible to build in it’s place? What scope is there to change what currently exists, to craft and nurture something entirely new? And I’m not talking about the future here, I’m talking about the now. In this moment is another system possible, is it already out there?

What if I told you that at this very moment there are children who from birth have been given the space to pursue their learning in a personalised, self-directed way, and that there are children being deregistered from school to join them. To live and learn cooperatively, without grading or testing, where their peers, of all ages, are their allies not their competition. What if I told you that in these conditions children develop skills in reading, in writing, in researching and critical thinking, in creating, without a classroom, but through their own curiosity and intrinsic motivation. Where mistakes are embraced as essential for learning, where there are no wrong answers, wrong subjects, wrong or right times to do or achieve certain things. Where they can follow their interests and own unique developmental readiness in the supportive context of community.

We can not afford to wait for ‘someone else’ to fix and rebuild the education system. It just isn’t going to happen, no matter the campaigning, lobbying, reasoning or ranting. Every moment we spend wishing that things were different is time and energy lost that could be redirected to working with each other on the alternative available to us right now.

The term ‘home education’ is an unattractive one, that conjures images of a chalk board on the dining room wall. However, don’t be misled. Home education is a gateway out of a broken system. It is an opportunity to work together to create something better. Something fit for purpose in the 21st century. Once we are free from the confines and rigid thinking of school based learning, we can expand and explore the true potential meaning of education. It frees us to work collaboratively with each other and the young people whose lives we are really talking about here, for them to be equal partners in manifesting this ‘new way’. It gives us the opportunity to model what learning without traditional schooling looks like, to challenge and overcome false beliefs, social norms and values about the capabilities, status and agency of children and young people.

By stepping through the doorway of home education to new connections and communities both virtual and in real life, we find a grassroots movement that will lead the way to revolutionising education as we know it. And believe me, it’s already happening.

This article first appeared in the Huffington Post.

 

Why do people home educate?

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This article first appeared in the Autumn 2016 edition of Salad Days

There are as many reasons as to why people decide to home educate as there are families home educating. Each family comes to the decision in their own time, and in their own way. Some families realise that home education is right for them before their children are school age, or even preschool age, others enter the school system and later decide that home ed is a better route for them.

We didn’t start out thinking we would home educate, but as our children approached school age and we researched and thought critically about the education system and how they would experience it, the more we looked for an alternative.

This led to us exploring how children learn and thrive without school, and gave us the confidence to create the opportunity for them to pursue their education outside of the classroom. Dissatisfaction with the existing education system is one of the most common reasons given by families for their decision to home ed.

For one local parent, key to their decision making was their desire to give their child the opportunity and freedom to continue exploring the world around them with the self-directed curiosity and enthusiasm that they had shown since birth. Why disrupt something that was already happening naturally?

Another family initially planned to home educate until their children were 7 years old, but observing how it had given them the time and space to develop, learn and grow, at their own pace and around the things that most interested them, decided to make it a long term plan.

‘Too much too soon’ was another reason given by parents – concern that formal learning starts too young. England has one of the youngest school starting ages in Europe, three years earlier than in Finland, for example, a country renowned for one of the most successful, progressive and learner focused education systems in the world.

Some families come to home educate because of their children having had negative experiences in school, whether that be bullying, inadequate support, or just that a traditional school environment is an uncomfortable fit.

The stress and restriction of standardised testing and assessment, seen by many parents and teachers as counterproductive to learning, was another reason given for opting to home ed. Through home education children are free to be themselves, and to be treated as individuals – they can pursue their own unique path to educational success.

Local parents also mentioned the opportunity home education offers in regards to respecting children’s rights, particularly children’s right to have their views and feelings listened to and taken seriously. Home education allows the best interests of the children to be prioritised above any other agenda.

With a thriving local home educating community, the option to home educate is more accessible than ever before. Families can decide to home educate knowing that they will be able to spend their time with other home educating families, that their children will be able to socialise with children of a range of ages, and participate in regular activities and events. Families have the opportunity to contribute their own creativity and skills to building a fantastic educational experience for their children.

Overcoming the shame of not going to school, and progressing education activism.

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I’m going to write about something quite painful today.

Painful, but important.

I’m going to talk about the shame that you can feel for doing something different to what others expect, to what you yourself expect. In this case, I’m going to talk about the shame of not going to school, of your children not going to school, of home education, but really this could apply to lots of different examples of diverging from the social narrative of ‘normal’.

As we live and grow, we internalise a lot of norms and values around us. They come to be the barometer by which we measure our selves and others, the indicators of good and bad, right and wrong, winning and losing. They tell us what we think we need to know to make the ‘right’ choices and to get life ‘right’.

There is a very strong social message about schooling, how important it is, the bad things that will happen if you don’t do school right, or heaven forbid if you don’t show up. This story is told through politics, through families, through international development strategies, through schooling experiences and school rules. The telling of it is pretty relentless, and any challenges to it are likely to end badly. We are told this story by people we love, they were told this story too, we’ve all been told it many, many times.

The story runs a pretty tight binary as well: school = good, not going to school = bad. There isn’t really any grey zone in the popular narrative of this.

The problem with social norms and values is, sometimes – maybe often times – their foundations are a bit shaky. They may come from a place that we don’t even know, a time generations before our own births. They may have been dreamed up by people without our best interests at heart. They may originate in other ideas that today we would totally disagree with. Only thing is, because of the way we learn and internalise norms and values, we can believe these things to be truths, that they tell us what is natural, what is normal, what is essential. When we think of them as ‘truths’ rather than as ideas, it can prevent us from thinking critically about them, from challenging them. When we believe in them and they are the basis of how we see ourselves and others, it makes it difficult to say, or to even realise that we can say: “Is this actually true?”

And if through circumstance, because our own critical thinking has been unlocked somehow from the standard model of norms and values – maybe because of our actual needs and being, or the needs and being of someone we know and care for, or because we are presented with information that radically challenges/undermines the norms and values around us, it can be painful.

It can be painful, and it can be scary.

And if we decide, on the basis of this information, to actually start living in a way that contrasts with the general social norms and values, although consciously we can know what we are doing makes complete sense to us, the subconscious internalisation of the norms and values that tell us it is wrong, risky, deviant, bad, can mean that we experience shame in living in a way that is most true to us.

We can feel shame or fear, even though we know what we are doing makes sense. Even though we know that based on the information we have, it is the path worth walking. We can know this on an intellectual basis. In terms of our heart though, we can still hurt by going against the norm. We can feel fearful, anxious. It can diminish our sense of self worth and challenge what we know of ourselves.

Lets talk about what happens when we move away from the education system, to create something else.

It is well documented, in many many places, that the existing education system that we have in the UK, is highly problematic. This is told to us by teachers, by educationalists, by headteachers, by psychologists, by students themselves, by parents, by mental health campaigners, by people from other countries with different systems, by people involved in alternative models education.

It makes complete sense to get to work on this. It makes complete sense to want something different for your own children, for society. It makes complete sense to do work to maybe change the system, probably to create something entirely different.

It makes sense to not want to send your children into the education system. It is a very rational and meaningful conclusion to reach.

Despite this, for the reasons given above, actually doing this work, making the decision as a family that you will do something other than school, to home educate, to manifest a new and different system of education to what currently exists, can cause us pain.

We learnt for lots and lots of years that not going to school was deviant, risky, likely to result in FAILURE. Even though we know that the existing system is troubled and flawed, deeply embedded in our subconscious is the feeling that not going to school is bad, and will result in bad things happening to us, and overcoming that feeling, the creeping sense of shame, can be a daily challenge.

There are certain things that I find helps with overcoming this feeling. Even as I write this now I can feel it lingering around my heart. That I am even writing about ‘not going to school’ triggers a little adrenaline. And the reality is that until we reach a point where there is a general awakening and acceptance across society that our education system needs radical change – a shift in the narrative, norms and values about schooling – we are likely to always feel a little of this. So what can we do to help?

For this I take guidance from other movements that are working at overcoming false social beliefs, norms and values, where something is being moved out of the ‘deviant’ and into the light.

Lets take the LGBT+ movement, for example. Being gay used to be a criminal offence, in our very recent history. Being trans has only in very very recent years started to gain socially transformative traction. What can we learn from the progress of LGBT+ folk that might help us in our own work?

Here are my thoughts:

  1. This can be a painful process, there is no way around that. We need to find ways to sit with that discomfort, to feel it, whilst knowing that it isn’t telling us that something is wrong.
  2. Self-care is important. Sometimes its worth putting ourselves out there, other times it makes more sense to work amongst ourselves, with like minded people that enable us to make progress rather than answer for and explain ourselves constantly. Community matters. Sometimes we need to just focus on ourselves and our own immediate families needs and to forget the wider context for a while.
  3. Being visible helps in ‘normalisation’. Showing up, sharing photos, living ‘without shame’ even if we feel scared inside, makes a difference. It gives others courage, it demonstrates another way, it fundamentally challenges peoples beliefs which can cause tipping points in progressing social norms.
  4. We can organise, cooperate, and support each other. There is a risk with trail blazing that the internalised/subconscious feelings of being deviant can prevent us from being open, honest and loving to each other. It can make us feel easily threatened and defensive. If we can move beyond that to working together, that has great potential consequences.
  5. We can educate ourselves to reassure ourselves that we are not alone. There is a long history to educational activism. People have been working on these issues in different ways, around the world, for many years. Connecting with that work, learning from what has already happened, what has already been thought about and done, can give us context to what is happening now and encourage us that we are not by any means the first or the only ones on this path. Knowing the history of the education system, alternatives to schooling, the history of childhood, can inspire us and help us reframing our own norms and beliefs.
  6. We can be compassionate and empathetic to those around us who may be unaware of the issues, who don’t understand life without school, or who feel stuck between a rock and a hard place because for whatever reason, separating from the existing education system isn’t an option at this time. School vs not school is a binary concept that is unhelpful, and frankly, unrealistic in the current circumstances> Because of the nature of the issue there is a lot of grey zone, it is’t as simple as black and white, right and wrong. Being aware of that can help mitigate the sense of frustration that things aren’t moving quickly enough, or that people just ‘aren’t getting it’, and frees us up to do what we can, from where we are, with what we have.

Keep on keeping on folks, wherever you are in your journey, however your work looks, small acts add up. And remember, if you’re not going to school, you are not alone.

Attachment parenting anti-intellectual? It’s a social justice movement.

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I’ve just read an article by Hadley Freeman about attachment parenting, and it makes for interesting reading. I will be the first to admit – attachment parenting is a messy subject, actually, all parenting discussion is messy. Same thing goes for education discourse, things get complicated, fast.I thought I would pick up on a few points, though, with a view to moving things forward.

First things first, I believe the Sears definition of ‘attachment parenting’ is dated, and I do not personally identify with it. As Hadley points out, Sear’s was coming from a patriarchal place. Let’s leave his definition in the 20th Century, where it belongs, and instead refocus on where attachment parenting currently fits, amongst intersectional and third wave feminism.

Early on in the article comes the line: “this is the approach of the moment, just as Gina Ford’s more scheduled method (strict bedtimes, an unbreakable routine) was a decade ago; to a certain degree, it is the reaction of a new generation of parents against Ford and her ilk”. So, is attachment parenting a reaction against Gina Ford et al?

Yes and no. In my experience, attachment parenting isn’t a reaction, as such. The majority of parents that I know who relate to attachment parenting, actually found the name after they were parenting in that way, not before. They didn’t research ‘parenting methods’ and then pick one, they were already parenting in an ‘attachment parent’ type way before they new it even had a name. They were doing what felt right to them in terms of listening to and meeting the needs of their baby.

However, once these parents realised that their behaviour towards their baby was not the social norm, they then sort out to find out why, and if they were alone. In doing so, they came across parenting theory, which included discovering attachment parenting and Gina Ford.

The problem with Gina Ford is that she represents a very authoritarian, oppressive parent child model. Attachment parenting gives people a voice, agency and personhood from birth. Gina Ford promotes a view that babies are the property of the parents, and encourages parental domination in the parent/child relationship. In terms of intersectional feminism, that is a very big issue.

Which leads us on to the anti-intellectionalism/anti-science claim made about attachment parents in Hadley’s piece.

In my experience, the absolute opposite is true. Attachment parents discover attachment parenting via critical thinking. They are questioning social norms to do with parenting – that are historically rooted in oppression – and looking to find out whether there is any evidence based justification for them. For me it has triggered intellectual consideration of whether it is ‘natural’ for young people to be subjugated to adults, and why and how that subjugation is socially constructed. Is there any good reason why I, as an adult, shouldn’t respect and listen to a child?

We live in a society that still refuses to accept that hitting a child is wrong, as we once refused to accept that hitting a woman was wrong, and demand scientific evidence to prove so. We refuse to provide full protection under the law for children to be free from being hit in their homes by their parents. The second class citizenship of children is so deeply entrenched in our mindsets and belief systems, that we have to provide scientific research to defend the view that isolating a person in room, distressed to the point of vomiting, is wrong, because on the basis of their age, people feel that it is acceptable and justified and some call it sleep training.

Is there an attitude of enlightenment amongst attachment parents as claimed in Hadley’s piece? I would say that feeling comes with time – the more time you experience a parent child relationship that is based on respect, trust and empathy, the more enlightened you feel about the importance of children’s rights, and aware of the normalised marginalisation and social injustices experienced by young people on a daily basis. It is the same sense of enlightenment that you experience when you realise how patriarchy has impacted society, how racism has impacted society, how sexism, and all other embedded discriminations impact us.

Does attachment parenting offer a set of rules for parents to follow so that they can nail parenting ? No. There are no rules – there is just the persistent intention to care for and respect your child as a person, in a socially just way. It so happens that that care often manifests in behaviours associated with attachment parenting – sleeping with your babies/children, breastfeeding longer than average, slowing down to a child’s pace and gaze, carrying your baby both for comfort and reasons of practicality. But none of these behaviours are essential. In fact, no two families for whom attachment parenting resonates looks the same, because every child is unique, every family member is unique, and attachment parenting is shaped entirely by that.

Contrary to the view posed in the article that a downside of attachment parenting is that it promises parents total control and responsibility over how a child turns out, I would argue the opposite. Attachment parenting is about creating the space for a person to feel respected for who they are, in all their individuality, from birth. The idea is that by experiencing respect, empathy and their voice being heard from day one, a person will not only feel free to be themselves, but also see the importance that all people experience that same freedom.

I do agree with Hadley that parents have never been subjected to so much advice from so many different places as they are now. This to me highlights the state of flux the parent/child relationship is currently in. We are evolving beyond patriarchal models of the family – and by patriarchal I mean family models in which adults hold dominant roles and children submit. But the transition is a messy one, complicated by many factors such as other social constructs that act as barriers to family members feeling respected, and that their needs are being met.

Hadley states that “there are times when attachment parenting seems to have made some women feel worse” and in this we are in agreement, although perhaps for different reasons. Parenting in a respectful and empathetic way can be triggering to parents. It can result in deep reflection of their own experiences in childhood and relationships, which may cause discomfort and identify trauma that had previously been hidden. It also highlights the very problematic nature of our society’s relationship with children, for example the issues with developmentally inappropriate institutional, industrial models of childcare and education that negate children’s rights. The experience of attachment parenting highlights how ill suited our society is for families to care for each other, and how poor work life balance can be.

Our society is not built to afford respect and personhood to young people – in the same way that it once wasn’t/still isn’t built to afford respect and personhood to women. There was resistance to women’s emancipation,  and there is resistance to the emancipation of children. The idea of sharing privilege can be perceived as inconvenient and threatening. It requires people to confront uncomfortable truths. We are in a position where we need to reconstruct our social norms and institutions to be inclusive of the youngest members of our society, and that is essential but painful and tiring work. Attachment parenting makes parents aware of the issues that we face. But if we want to create positive social change, I think that’s a good thing.