Freedom -Not License! – A. S. Neill
I am a new mother and my husband and I would like to raise our child in an atmosphere of freedom. But as we discuss this, we seem not at all to be sure where freedom ends and indulgence takes over, or even when to intervene as a matter of safety. For example, should we set up standards of cleanliness and of respect for property?
Safety is essential. You have to protect your child. You have to see that he does not play on busy roads or jump into deep water. Common sense in these matters is all that is required. But it is not so easy to answer the question when safety is not a factor. Take cleanliness. Any mother knows that diapers must be washed, that children must be bathed, that good food must be provided. But cleanliness must not be made a fetish or it will lead to complexes. We over-exaggerate the importance of cleanliness. When I was a boy, I knew three farmers who, I am sure, never had a bath in their lives. They all lived to be over 90. Far too many children are over-washed because the neighbours might see a dirty face.
But the fact is that almost every child likes a hot bath. It is my observation that only a child who has been made defiant will balk at taking a bath. How much should a young mother do in the way of demanding respect for property? Every infant has to learn the laws of mine and thine. If a child is reared properly, there should be little difficulty here. I can say to a child of five: “Come on, get out of my car; it’s mine,” and I get no hostile reaction. Even the youngest pupil knows that he cannot come into my garden and take away a barrow or a rake. Children soon accept these rules, that is if touching things or taking things is not made into an affair of rebuke or anger. One cannot lay down laws about freedom and license; the boundary has to be judged by the individual parent. Often you have to say no to a small child, however much you believe in freedom. Houses are made for adults, and in the process of fitting into a home, the child has a thousand difficulties. “Don’t touch that vase!” “Stop pulling the cat’s tail.” “Don’t scratch the grand piano with that nail.” To a child of three, a piano with its polished veneer is a lovely blackboard for chalk or a nice wall in which to drive nails- nothing more. The difficulty is how to preserve what we value in things, and at the same time let the child develop in his own way and time. Obviously, never to say no is to bring up a spoiled child who will be incapable of facing later realities. Such a kid will grow up to expect the world to provide everything he wants.
When it comes to freedom and license, there’s no Bible, no encyclopedia to consult, no final authority. The onus is on every parent to use his head. All that can be postulated is that never must the child be made afraid or be made to feel guilty. So much depends on your personality. If you are a fairly placid woman, if your love life with your husband is good, if you are sufficiently removed either geographically or psychically from interfering relations, then you have a chance, a good chance of rearing a child that will be as free as possible from neurosis. It will be up to you to make decisions every day about when to say yes and when to say no.