Adelaide knocked on our front door. I directed her into the family room where Imogen and Charlotte were playing, and her eyes opened wide with delight. A huge Barbie game was underway. The floor was awash with Barbies and Kens, Barbie furniture and cars, Barbie clothes and accessories… everything a doll and a little girl could wish for.
Adelaide chose several Barbies and soon she was immersed in the game. It wasn’t long before she was directing the action.
“Let’s pretend Ken breaks up with your Barbie. Now he’s going out with mine,” said Adelaide.
Imogen and Charlotte looked at the little girl with blank faces: break up? What did that mean? Ken and Barbie were married. They went to Mass and said grace, attended baptisms, went on picnics, homeschooled their children… Barbie and Ken might have been me and Andy. They certainly didn’t ‘break up’.
I didn’t really want my daughters playing ‘breaking up’ games with their dolls but I needn’t have worried. The whole concept must have passed over their heads, because soon another wedding was being arranged. Barbie and Ken were getting married yet again.
A couple of wonderful hours later, Adelaide’s mother arrived to take her home. All three little girls had had a great afternoon. I could tell that Adelaide had really enjoyed playing with Imogen and Charlotte and all their dolls.
But that was the only time Adelaide came to play. She never knocked on our front door again. I wondered if her mother had forbidden her to visit our house. But why? Weren’t we responsible and friendly people? Wasn’t our home considered a safe place for children? I pondered these questions for a long time. And then one day I had this thought: Maybe Adelaide told her mother about all the Masses Barbie and Ken went to. Perhaps she decided she didn’t want her daughter to be exposed to our strange Catholic ways.
I smile at that thought. It amuses me. But at the same time, I can understand why Adelaide’s mother might have worried. We all have values and beliefs we want to pass onto our children, and we don’t want them picking up something contrary to our own way of life. It seems Adelaide’s mother might have considered our family as a negative outside influence.
Friends aren’t the only outside influence. Music, TV, the Internet, billboards, books… These can all adversely affect our children. So how do we protect them?
When children are small it’s relatively easy to isolate them from anything we don’t like in the outside world. But what about older kids? I guess we could refuse to let them watch TV and use the Internet. Or have strict guidelines they must adhere to. We might insist on previewing every movie and book before we let our children anywhere near them. Perhaps we could make strict rules about friends and places they are allowed to go.
“There are a lot of negative influences out in the world. How do parents keep their kids safe,” I ask my older children. “Should they make a lot of rules to protect them?”
“Rules don’t work,” says Imogen. We’ve talked about this before. “Rules result in a power struggle between parents and children.”
“Parents could talk to their children, tell them their concerns, and point out what is right and what is wrong,” suggests Charlotte.
“But children might not want to listen,” I say. “What makes a child respect her parents’ opinions?”
“It’s all to do with family loyalty,” says Callum.
“Yes, a child needs to have a strong sense of belonging to his or her family. Family must be more important than outsiders. If it is, why shouldn’t a child listen to his parents rather than other people?”
But what gives a child that strong sense of belonging to a family? We did some brainstorming and came up with the following ideas…
- A family has to be a safe place, where a child is unconditionally loved no matter what
- Acceptance, no criticising, no talking negatively about someone, especially when they are absent
- Forgive mistakes
- Ask for forgiveness when we make our own mistakes
- Listen to a child’s opinions and not make them feel stupid or put them down. Discussion keeps communication lines open. Forcing opinions on children closes them off
- Parents must want to hear about and share a child’s interests. They must value what’s important to them
- Family members should have interests in common, so they can do things together and discuss and enjoy working and playing together
- A home must be a joyful and encouraging place so everyone wants to spend time together there as a family
- A sense of humour unique to a family, that outsiders don’t quite understand, helps create strong bonds
- A family language works in the same way
- So do special family traditions
- Always be willing to help children
- Respect children
- Trust them
- Pray together as a family
So are my children safe? Can I guarantee they are protected from outside influences? No, I don’t think it’s possible for any parent to be absolutely sure of that. But I’m confident a strong sense of family, unconditional love and prayer will help. Yes, I trust.
Those Barbie days are long gone, but our family can still be regarded as a negative outside influence. You see, we’re unschoolers, and everyone knows unschooling is a lazy, irresponsible way of life. Worse still, we seem to have let unschooling flow over into our parenting. We’ve become radical. Our children do what they like. We have no rules.
Our girls have become rather wild. Just look at them.
It’s obvious. Isn’t it?
|The Angels of Abbey Creek|
Thank you Charliene, for reviewing my children’s novel, The Angels of Abbey Creek. Here’s a little snippet…
“My daughter (age 6) and I enjoyed The Angels of Abbey Creek immensely! The moment it ended, she begged to begin it again. We giggled our way through many chapters. Through some, we sighed in empathy and cuddled closer. Through all, we related to the delightful characters, our new friends, each brimming with personality, and the wonderful and humorously familiar circumstances they find themselves in… ” Charliene.
You can find the whole review on Amazon.