The insight comes at this moment: My children, 5.95 and 3.4 at the time, are on the floor in my living room/office, playing a rather odd game that involves some plastic dinosaur figures, a couple of Lego Exoforce structures, and a plot line that combines some kind of intergalatic battle with a game of hide and seek and a trip to Banff. They’ve just come down from upstairs, where they were hanging out in Sean’s “workshop,” which has numerous breakable things in it. I was not in there, hovering over them, to ensure they didn’t break the printer, put magnets on the hard drives, or brought the pile of intricately arranged video tapes on top of the bureau crashing down on their heads.
I didn’t have to hover―not because they are “better” or more “obedient” children than the child who would do all that, but because they’re in a different developmental cycle. I have Sharpie marker traces on our (trashed) leather couch, basement floor and several stuffed toys from a different phase, after the onset of which the Sharpies were put away in a high, unreachable, unseeable place. There was a DVD destroying incident, after which Sean’s workshop was off limits for a long while.
The Sharpies are still away. The door to the workshop is once again perpetually open. That’s by the way (another by the way: the game on the floor below me, by the way, now includes a ghost haunting, and I’m trying to figure out how this fits into the previous going to Banff via intergalatic battle bit, but that’s probably just as irrelevant). We all figure out how to deal with the “in the moment” issues thrown at us by our children with ways that address the “in the moment” needs and fit into our big picture philosophy of life, more or less adequately.
Today, I want to put another issue on the table, the issue of privacy and the inner life of the child.
Now, my partner and I spend a lot of time with our children. Oodles. We both work from home. We homeschool. We could be together 24/7. And one of the breakthroughs for me on the parenting journey―it happened, as always, later than it should have–was that as they’ve gotten older, my children need more space, more privacy, more alone time. Not to the exclusion of time with each other and time with their parents and time with other people in their lives–but alone time, uninterrupted time to just be by themselves, to do their own thing without being watched (however unobtrusively), without being questioned about it, without having to account for that time.
Sometimes, when Cinder has a crazy day(s), one of the things that’s been missing from his rhythm is this alone time. He’s been with me and his sister 24/7 and frankly, he just wants us to go away, but that’s a hard thing to say to people you love, so he acts like a bum instead to make us go away. I’m working on giving him the words to say it, and helping him recognize that it’s ok to say, “I just want to be by myself for a while.”
His sister recognizes this about herself much more intuitively. She will take a basket of toys into the bathroom and close the door on herself, announcing that she “needs some privacy.” And she’ll stay there for a long stretch of time, 30 minutes, an hour–until someone desperately has to pee because we only have one bathroom–playing by herself, being by herself, enjoying her privacy.
Children need a private inner life. This need manifests in different ways and is fulfilled in different ways, but I do think it’s pretty much universal–everyone needs some space in which to just be themselves, by themselves, without an audience, however loving or unobtrusive.
Filling this need, safely, as a parent, involves a whole lot of judgement calls. Cinder just wandered past my desk carrying a pair of scissors. I followed him onto the balcony, saw that he had a pile of construction paper on the table there, and retreated. Had he been three, instead of almost six, and heading towards his sister’s precious dolls (or head!), I probably would have stayed. Had be been heading somewhere with a box of matches―or for a box of matches―I would have offered rather obtrusive supervision. Judgement calls.
Cinder and Flora wrap up their focused (unsupervised) together time. They call me away from my own alone, private time and time of reflection, and we all three embark on a very complicated craft that requires my participation and very active supervision (“No! Melted wax is hot! Gah!”). And then they’re tired of each other, and of me. Flora takes a basket of toys to the bathroom. Cinder heads outside to run laps around the Common. When they come back to me, I resolve not to ask them what they were doing, what they were thinking.
Maybe they’ll tell me. Maybe they won’t. Either outcome’s okay.
Children have private lives and they need privacy. (Based on an April 2008 day and previously published list post).
What are your thoughts on the private lives of children? How do your children take their private time? How did you come to recognize this need?