We put our child in charge for a day – it was both terrifying and liberating | Family
WWe call it his “day in charge”. One day our nine year old daughter Flora is in charge, and we are, in fact, in charge. A day when all the traditional hierarchies between parent and child are reversed, where she can fulfill her fantasies, refuse to do anything she doesn’t want and taste power, authority and absolute freedom.
OK, not absolute freedom. There are a few basic rules. She can’t do anything that we think is dangerous or illegal. She cannot ask us to buy something “too expensive” (we are keeping this part intentionally vague). And, this year, we realized we needed to add a fine print to our contract: She can’t buy new pets.
Every year, we give him a “gift voucher” for that day on his birthday in January. We set the time and date ourselves: 24 hours on charge, from 1 p.m. on Saturday until 1 p.m. on Sunday, usually at the end of spring. This is something I know she looks forward to during the winter. And it reminds us that her childhood is passing, that she will one day be an adult, master of her life, able to do what she wants on a daily basis. May every day that we spend with her, when she is still our little girl, is precious.
There is a song in Mathilde, the musical, where the characters sing about how when they grow up they will have treats every day and watch cartoons all the time and go to bed late every night. The irony, of course, is that when they grow up, they probably won’t be so keen on doing these things anymore. This idea that childhood desires are destined to vanish, unrealized, has always struck me as a little sad.
I can, however, be the only one who takes songs from successful musicals so seriously. Certainly, when I tell other parents that my husband Neil and I give our daughter this Leadership Day every year, they find it not only bizarre, but terrifying. “Hand over all control of your life to your child for 24 hours?” Are you angry? ”Is a typical response.
There were definitely times, the first time we decided to do it three years ago, when I asked myself the same question. But I was curious. My parenting style is very different from that of my own parents. They had me late in life and I was such a longed-for child: they found great joy in satisfying my every whim. I assumed I would like to treat my own children the same, but to my surprise, I didn’t. Even though my love for Flora was greater than anything I could have imagined, I still wanted some space with her every now and then. I wanted some free time every night, a fairly tidy house and, if possible, a good night’s sleep in my own bed. And I quickly realized that if I wanted all of this, my husband and I had to set boundaries and learn to say no to our child. Which we duly did, much to the astonishment of his loving grandparents.
But I wondered: Did Flora miss some of the fun I had growing up in a more permissive home – and maybe some of the valuable lessons I had learned about doing my own? own choices?
we had read Danny the world champion together and found myself thinking about the Roald Dahl epilogue at the end, which I remember passionately agreeing with as a kid. “A message to the children who have read this book: When you grow up and have children, please remember something important. A surly parent is no fun at all. What a child wants and deserves is a parent who is SPARKY.
Was I bright enough? I was wondering. A little voice in my head said no. I had read that other parents had similar experiences with their children and that everything was going horribly wrong, but I optimistically thought that because Flora was an only child, it would be quite easy to follow her rules. She alone would be responsible, with no bickering siblings, or any other child with competing demands to deal with. And it was only for a day. Would it be really hard to let her do whatever she wants, for just 24 hours?
I will never forget how thrilled she was when we told her. She was six years old and immediately started planning. Making a list of all the normally forbidden things that she would have the opportunity to do and eat and fantasize about the pleasure that would give her seemed like a real source of pleasure in and of itself. And once, when I refused to let her do something, she replied, “It’s okay mom, I’ll do it on my day of duty instead.” I was taken aback, but realized what she was really saying: that knowing that she would have 24 hours to live by her own rules helped her live by our rules the rest of the time.
As the big day approached, I found myself tense. Would I be able to say yes to everything? Would it all end in tears?
The first thing she wanted to do was have lunch at McDonald’s. As I sat there, eating fries and nervously awaiting his next order, a phrase from Where the wild things are “And now,” cried Max, “let the wild heckling begin!
Twenty-four hours later… we were exhausted but amazed. Without realizing we were going, we had enjoyed every second. Every angry and exhilarating crazy second. And every year since, it’s the same.
As expected, Flora enjoys going to bed late, eating a lot of junk food, and watching a lot of screens. But she also gets a lot of pleasure from simple, innocent hobbies, like choosing candy at a candy store or having a picnic or snuggling in bed at night with our puppy (which is usually not allowed). She likes to dress in voluminous dresses and go out to the movies where she can have popcorn and ice cream and sweets. She likes to curl up in bed with a good book and a slice of chocolate cake.
It’s not hard to let her follow her own rules for 24 hours, in other words. This is delicious.
I was especially touched to discover that she had a strong desire to relive specific happy memories of times we had spent together – a bike ride in the local park, a game we played, pancakes for the little one. breakfast. Moments of collective joy that I hadn’t realized at the time meant so much to her.
The other thing she likes to do is us “parents”. This first year, she gave me a bath and washed my hair. Then she brushed her teeth, read us stories and put us to bed at 7:30 p.m. – while she stood, watching endlessly Octonauts and eat an entire can of Coco Pops.
We hadn’t planned on falling asleep, but the feeling of being so lovingly fed by a six-year-old was overwhelming. I woke up at 11pm and rushed downstairs to find her sitting happily on the sofa, surrounded by chocolate cookies, marshmallows, and the aforementioned box of Coco Pops. She admitted that she felt a little sick.
She succeeded in achieving her goal of “staying awake after midnight”, snuggled up next to me, but never again expressed a desire to watch. Octonauts. Or eat Coco Pops, for that matter.
But above all, the person who learned the lessons is me. Like other parents who have tried this experience, for a clearly defined period of time, I find it liberating to say yes to my child all the time. My husband and I feel so carefree, so relieved of the need to persuade her to do anything she doesn’t want to do or to take the place that she doesn’t want to go. We realized that by charging it, we were actually giving ourselves a day off.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t plan on putting her on charge all the time. It would clearly be bad for his diet. But the experience taught me to live more in the present moment and to say yes, more often, the other days too. I learned something that I had managed to forget: that children really know how to have fun. And if, as a parent, you have the courage to put your child in charge, even for just 24 hours, one thing is for sure. Your life is about to get a lot brighter.
Let the wild heckling begin: Dos and Don’ts
Give your child time to plan their day.
Set some ground rules: nothing illegal, dangerous, or overpriced.
Support one child at a time. Send your siblings to a relative or friend to avoid arguments.