A lot of people claim to know autonomous children. They actually claim to know their own children as autonomous children despite never having the pleasure of meeting them.
These are theoretical versions of their children who will eat only sugar, spend all of their existence on screens to the point where they wouldn’t get enough sleep and of course, think only of themselves.
What they know is not a predetermined outcome, it is fear. And they make their choices investing in their relationship with fear at the expense of their child’s autonomy.
I actually know autonomous children; my own.
Of course, we choose our actions towards them because that is what they deserve regardless and it is not their responsibility to validate our decisions with their own. But it is also true that they are such wonderful people; we see them choosing their actions in kind because they appreciate their worth and the worth of others too. These choices are motivated by who they want to be, not who we enforce them to be and that is such an incredible honour to witness.
I often dance around this because I do not think we should look to the outcome to inform our treatment of children and I do not think our children owe us in exchange for their autonomy. How they are is not proof of what they deserve but it is contrary to what we are asserted to expect and therefore an important contribution to the dialogue. Their stories are valid and tangible, not projected conjecture.
Can we talk about actual autonomous children and not the ones that exist only within conventionally conditioned minds?
According to conventional parenting wisdom, children such as mine should not exist. And yet they do. And they are not alone.
So what does our reality with autonomous children look like? Imperfect, people with conflicting needs to navigate, emotional responses that are unhindered by society’s expectations and comfort level. But all of that raw, uncompromised individuality leads to stories such as these…
Leaving the park, around 3pm and we are all a bit hungry so talking about options in the car. We offer to get some hot chips on the way home or what about donuts? The kids entertain the idea, yeah maybe, they’re not super keen but they are hungry and it feels like a good enough option. We continue trying to think of other plans but struggling ourselves to come up with anything. Then Immy has an idea and asks how long till dinner? It’s a couple of hours till we would usually have dinner but we let them know we could make it when we get home. That sounds preferable to her, she’s excited for that and Aubrey agrees. So we head straight home.
My children can eat what they choose and they choose what makes sense to them.
After a day of playing in the mud, Aubrey was keen to continue doing so the next day but Immy was interested in a day at home so I offered the option of making goop (cornflour + water) as a similar sort of sensory experience and she was keen to give it a try. Once she had created her goop, she was completely captivated and wanted Immy, who was playing minecraft at the time, to feel it too. I let her know I would invite Immy but it would be up to her, of course. Immy came to see it and upon feeling it let us know she would be back, she just needed to say goodbye to her friends. And they played with goop for hours, just as they have played with screens for hours.
My children each have their own computer. They can use them whenever, on whatever, for however long and they choose what makes sense to them.
Recently, Immy has been enjoying playing minecraft with a friend who is travelling. This friend was about to leave their current location with easy access to internet, it would be a while before they were able to play together again. For two nights, Immy stayed up past midnight soaking up as much time as she could and then sleeping late the next day. Having a “taste” of late nights, one might imagine she would continue to follow a similar pattern and yet she hasn’t. She was forgoing sleep for a purpose, to make use of limited time with a friend.
My children can sleep whenever they choose and they choose what makes sense to them.
Meeting up with friends yesterday, we couldn’t park in our usual spot right nearby as they were doing back burning. It made for a 15 minute walk which we undertook slowly on the way there and then even slower on the way back! Aubrey was feeling tired but not expecting to have needed to walk to our location, I hadn’t packed our things in a backpack and was finding it difficult to figure out how to carry two bags and Aubrey. And then Immy offered to help me carry things so I could carry Aubrey.
My children can be as selfish or selfless as they wish and they choose what makes sense to them.
Perhaps you’ve been sold a lie but you do not need to keep believing it. I mean just think about it, does it even make sense to think that people are only capable of existing when externally controlled? And at what point do we transition out of this inability to control ourselves into the ability to control others?
Autonomous children are what I believe to be true of all humans who are free from control and conditioning; wonderful but the most important thing is that they are themselves. And if you deny autonomy, you are denying the opportunity to know your children and for them to know themselves.
Do you want to get to know your child? Flaws, mistakes and all. Maybe you’d be surprised, maybe you’d be challenged, most likely a combination of both. But it would be authentic and an experience unreplicatable in any other way.