Many parents would love to raise their children in a home where the kids can be independent and enjoy life unhindered by society’s conventional rules and expectations… and many parents would agree that if their kids were in such a home, they would greatly prefer not to be there with them.
Because most parents believe that kids need some boundaries, for things like socialisation and safety, and it’s their job to set them.
But Gemma and Lewis Rawnsley of Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, feel very differently. Gemma has told The Mirror they don’t believe in boundaries in their home.
The Rawnsleys are proud parents of Skye, 13, Finlay, 12, Phoenix, nine, Pearl, eight, Hunter, five, Zephyr, three, and Woolf, one, who are home-schooled.
Their approach, which is the subject of new UK TV show, Feral Families, takes free-range parenting to the extreme. The only rules being they don't lie to, harm, or offend anyone else. The children are permitted to cut and dye their hair, tattoo and pierce their bodies, dictate their diets (ice cream at midnight), bedtimes (or lack thereof) and wardrobes, and to use profanities.
Gemma claims she has made a conscious choice to parent using natural consequences to teach her kids, rather than preventative restrictions that discourage their innate thirst for discovery. She says, "I make calculated decisions so if something seems dangerous I know it has risk attached, but the benefits are that they learn responsibility."
Examples of this include their five-year-old old playing with a spirit burner and chemicals in the name of scientific research, and their nine-year-old only being motivated to learn to read six months ago so that he could send messages to his friends on his Xbox.
Gemma insists that their approach to parenting may be unconventional, but it's also the opposite of negligent. She argues that in fact, they are paying more attention to their kids and their needs than other parents are.
Listen: Dr Michael Carr-Gregg joined the This Glorious Mess podcast to talk about raising teenage boys. (Post continues.)
“It’s about letting them make decisions, it’s not a feckless attitude where we sit back and let it all happen. It looks like we’re feral, but that’s just one side of us. Feral is left to your own devices, but these kids are brought up to the nth degree."
While some of this may sound 'negligent' to parents with a more conservative/traditional approach, perhaps it's not as different as it seems. Could it be it's simply a whole new take on 'Tiger Parenting', which is strongly focussed on bringing out the best in a child - but it has more to do with street-smarts than academic success?
Is the Rawnsleys' style just another version of 'Yes Day', except it's a Yes Year - or, rather a Yes 18 Years? The parents aren't absent, but engaged in a different way. Will the product of that be children who understand real-life consequences, such as, perhaps, obesity and sleep-deprivation; or will they learn earlier than other children the very important life skills of independence and self-regulation?
Are the Rawnsleys saving their sanity, while other parents drive themselves crazy with rules and repercussions?
Time will tell.