Not much gets judged more harshly than other people's parenting. We label and judge and criticize parenting styles and choices that differ from our own. Helicopter parents, free-range kids, tiger moms, parents who yell too much, parents who are too lenient, parents who are friends with their kids, parents who are too authoritarian, parents who are too protective, and, gasp!, parents who kiss their children on the lips. All of these parents are fair game for judgment, ridicule, and "friendly" advice from strangers.
Internet derision aside, in real life, most of us try not to cast judgment. We're all just doing our best. We have good moments and bad, and unfortunately some of those bad ones happen in public. But even the most open-minded among us are struggling with a new British reality show.
Feral Families is a new British TV show that follows three families as they "radically unschool" their children.
Radically unschool? In case you haven’t heard of this, unschooling is like homeschooling, except the school part. While homeschoolers follow a curriculum, use lesson plans, and teach the fundamentals of reading, writing, mathematics, science, history, etc, unschoolers do none of that. Kids (or parents) don’t feel like math today? No problem. The “education” is child-led and entirely unstructured. There is no curriculum or lesson plan.
The "radical" part comes in when this kid-led concept permeates all aspects of the family's life.
Their “school day” has no structure, and neither does any other aspect of their day. Or night. The children eat what they want to when they want to. Mealtimes and schedules are for conventional people. These kids choose their own bedtimes and have no rules to follow.
(Conventional parents everywhere just broke out in hives at the thought of no bedtime.)
In case you're still feeling confused about this concept, these are the families included in the show Feral Families.
Maybe that looks nice? The kids seem happy. Except the one who lit himself on fire, it doesn’t seem that dangerous. (There is some uncertainty about whether that fire-wielding teenager can read.)
Gemma Rawnsley, mom of seven kids ranging in age from 1 to 13, considers parents to be "facilitators."
Rawnsley explains, “Right from the off, we felt really strongly that we didn’t want to be the sort of parents you see shouting at their kids in the supermarket.”
Most parents don’t go into parenting hoping to be shouting in the supermarket, but parenting takes place wherever the children are, and supermarkets happen.
She goes on to explain how she sees her role, “We are facilitators, so we will lift the mattresses for them. The conventional response would be to say: ‘No, you can’t take the mattresses and make a slide,’ but why not?”
(Are we the only ones thinking that a reason “why not” is that we don’t want to lift the mattresses?)
For the Rawnsley brood, there are only two rules: no lying, and no hurting one another. Outside of that, pickaxes, midnight snacks, tattoos, swearing, head-shaving: all fair game.
Is the idea of letting the children make their own choices really that crazy?
People seem to be split on the answer to that. Most agree that freedom to explore, discover, and make mistakes is good, but kids need some limits too. The public’s reactions to the show are varied. Some support the families, some vehemently oppose the concept. Many homeschoolers are especially upset. Whatever the opinion, the opinions were strong.