I hope you've been enjoying this series of Parenthood Unplugged. It has been really fab to connect with parents in such vast differing set-ups as this series unfolds. First up we had Dave & Sheena, bringing up their kiddos in a really remote area of Africa, and then Ali & Gareth, rocking parenthood on the road, touring as a musicians with the band Rend Collective. I'm really learning loads as we hear from parents doing their thing in different settings, and am also comforted by the sameness of it all; the solidarity of parents on different journeys, struggling and celebrating in all the same ways.
Today we have some insight from the lovely Tim & Lucy AitkenRead. I've known these guys for a few years and it's been really brilliant and inspiring to watch their family life grow and watch as they grab life by the goolies and adventure together. Just over a year ago, Tim (a teacher from New Zealand) & Lucy (a campaigner & writer) upped sticks from their humble, quirky abode in London and set off travelling with their two girls, Ramona (3 at the time) and Juno (only a few months old). They toured Europe in their campervan and finally found themselves back in NZ where their romance first blossomed.
So far, we haven't had a whole lot of input from the dad side of things in this series, so I'm really pleased that Tim is weighing in on the father perspective of how Tim & Lucy parent as equals, committed to bringing up their girls in a respectful, empowering & gentle way (which you can read loads more on in Lucy's fabby blog, Lulastic). Let's hear from them, shall we?!
Tim & Lucy - you guys live in a yurt, on a farm in New Zealand with your two kiddos. A YURT. All four of you. Together. How did you end up there on purpose?!
Tim: We were really fortunate to find ourselves (actually, through a reader of Lu’s blog, of all things!) on a small farm with our bus for a few nights. A few nights turned into a bit longer, and we switched the bus for a yurt (we kept the bus for adventures) and one year later we are still there! It has been the most amazing opportunity to really start to figure out how we wanted to live. We left London with vague ideas of being a bit more sort of outdoors… and over this last year the dream solidified into sharing land with other families, living sustainably and surrounded by forest. And after a year of getting to dream and build relationships, in a few months we get to do it long term, on our own bit of land. Hoorah!
Ah! So excited to see that dream develop for you guys!
Lu, on your blog you really champion parenting that is gentle and respectful and it is awesome and inspiring. We would align our own parenting with a lot of the same thoughts but it has been a learning curve for Dave and I to be on the same page with it all. I’d love to hear from Tim a little bit about his journey towards this kind of parenting approach. From a dad’s perspective, how has it been for you & how have you guys navigated parenting this way together?
Tim: It has been a struggle, honestly, because it is really quite different to the way I was bought up. I have to regularly fight the idea that because my daughter doesn’t always say please and thank you (for example) that I’m doing a bad job as a parent. Times that she doesn’t listen to me- it takes a lot for me to not be personally affronted!
Things like breastfeeding, relaxed bedtimes/ co-sleeping and nappy-free stuff came quite naturally to us both. It has been the releasing of a parental control paradigm - dropped onto our lap through the world of unschooling- that has given us the most debate and internal inquiry!!
It is affirming though, when I see Ramona thinking things through herself, and coming up with actions and responses even better than I could have imagined from an obedient and unquestioning child.
Being around much more these last couple of years, having a much stronger parenting role has allowed me to better understand the whole peaceful parenting thing that Lucy goes for. It helps that I trust Lucy’s judgment - I see her working things out intelligently and it gives me confidence in this sort of parenting. We discuss things a lot, and affirm each other when we nail it!
I love that. It's so important to encourage each other - especially when we are parenting in a way that we've had to really think through differently. New Zealand seems like a way chilled out place to work this stuff out - is there anything specifically about the Kiwi culture that lends itself better to parenting the way you guys do better than the UK? What are the nuances/differences?
Lu: It is laid back here - but this doesn’t impact mainstream parenting too much. If you want to be surrounded by parents who do this more respectful thing, you have to go out and look for them, just like in the UK. On the whole, most parenting here follows the same idea- that children need to be kept in line. There is a more accepted wildness – for example, children rarely wear shoes- however discipline is very punitive. Positively, New Zealand has introduced a ban on smacking (can you believe there isn’t one in every country?!) and I do really think this will have a long term impact on how acceptable physical punishment is.
Living in a yurt (one big space essentially?) on a communal farm, living off the land with your family sounds really ideal but also a big adjustment from big city living in London - how do you find space for yourself, for your writing and other personal needs?
We live with three other families, our different homes are around 100 metres apart. We see everyone around the farm every day, and eat together every couple of weeks, but some days you do just need to hunker down and everyone respects each other’s space. Living this way has meant we can afford to keep a massive bus for camping, and a couple of times a month we go “Ooh, lets knock off for a bit” and we go and rampage on a beach for a few days as a family. When we lived in London, quite regularly we’d be sitting in our lounge and feel quite lonely. In theory we were surrounded by friends- but everyone, including us, was so busy. We realised yesterday that we haven’t had that feeling for a year!
You seem to be really confident about your parenting choices and I love how your free-spiritness comes across as a family - do you think it’s possible to be a parent and not worry that you’re doing the right thing for your child/ren?
Lu: There is an idea, from C.S Lewis, about how people can only act according to the light revealed to them. I think this applies to parenting, and all of life. We can only do the things we are conscious of, or ready for. I think, if we have read as much as we can on child development and that sort of thing, then we need to then act according to what we know and feel confident in that! I can hand on heart say that I have total faith that this parenting is better for children, society and the future! My only doubts come when I am unable (i.e not ready for!) to act on something I feel to be right. It helps enormously to be surrounded by people who have similar ideas.
Tim: I get more bothered by doubts, I do realise thought that they are my issues/ baggage, though.
Give us a ‘Day in the life of the AitkenReads’ run-down!
Okay – here is today: The kids wake up between 7:30 and 8 – Tim has been up already to milk the cow. Lucy sleeps in for longer (I blame night feeding, but actually, my bed in the morning is just the actual best place to be on earth.) We have a long rolling breakfast/ tea drinking/ coffee time. By 9 one of the other kids on the farm has popped over for a play. Tim starts work in the garden, mulching or weeding and the girls and other kids and I go and pick apples on the farm, then play in the mud and then meet back at the house for lunch. Juno falls asleep in the sling and Lucy will use that time to do some writing. In the afternoon, Lucy heads into town to use the library wifi and do some work while Tim stays at home doing some baking with the girls. He picks veggies from the garden and Lucy gets home and cooks a curry and we eat, or smudge it all over our faces and the table (some of us.) We go for a walk after dinner to visit the cows to feed them rotten apples – they slobber all over our shoes and then start pawing the grass kind of violently in response to Juno and Ramona’s giggles. Both girls fall asleep on the way home and then Tim and I come home and work on a little interview thing from the awesome blogger called Mel.
And finally - what are your dreams for your family and your kiddos?
We hope that our children grow up to be successful business people who are rolling in dough. Paha! Really, we don’t imagine much for our girls - only that they might continue to be free thinkers, who are internally motivated and are able to question those in authority, whilst being able to love well and be loved. (Actually, turns out that is a lot of ambition!!!)
For the immediate future, our dream is to be able to support each other and other families, to be true to ourselves and what we know.
Sounds pretty brilliant to me.
Do you have any other questions for Tim & Lucy? A HUGE thank you to them for sharing a snippet of their life with us - if you want to follow along with their adventures (and swoon over their wild and free surroundings) you can always keep up over on Lucy's blog/fb/twitter and IG.