Saturday, January 31, 2009

To Give or Not to Give - Privacy that Is

So, I have a 4 and a 1 year old, and a small dilemma regarding the big sister's "need" for privacy. I am sure this is an issue we will revisit on this blog with greater seriousness in ten years, however, I am currently wondering about the validity of a child requesting privacy.
You know what I mean, she is hard at 4-yr.-0ld-work in her room -- creating a My Little Pony corral or something -- and in saunters her, newly walking, destructive one-year-old brother. She wails, "Mommmmy, can you get him out? I need privacy." How she knows about the concept I have no idea, but that is beside my point right now. What I wrestle with is whether this is a legitimate request, or rather, whether this will ever be a legitimate request. I lean toward "no." Isn't privacy just an excuse for people to do immoral things? Perhaps it is innocent enough when she simply wants to create a project uninterrupted, but what kind of a premise am I establishing? Why can't a person do whatever he/she needs to do in the light of day? I spent many a frustrating hour in college arguing against the "inherent right to privacy" supposedly found in the Constitution that abortion-advocates like to enlist as their legislative balast. If I don't believe in the "right to privacy" outside my home, what does that mean here? Then I started thinking, Do I need "Mommy time" and isn't that really a form of privacy? Or just sanity? Is that selfish?
Perhaps this rambled, but your thoughts on kiddie privacy and the ways in which you do or do not allow it in your homes would be much appreciated.


Stephanie said...

I have a just turned 5 year old and a 2 1/2 year old. The 5 year old definitely wants to go up to his room for about 30 minutes every day by himself. I check on him all the time so I know what he is doing...typically, building blocks, playing supershero, or drawing. I know that he needs this time away from his sister because if he were anywhere near her, she would probably knock over the blocks or something. After a brief stint away, he is ready to be patient with her again, play wit her, and almost always asks here what she wants to do then. I think we all need some "quiet" time, maybe look at it as "uninterrupted, quiet" time rather than "privacy"?

Melinda said...

I agree with Stephanie that we all need some quiet time. I let my 4.5 year old do things during the 2 year old's nap that she can't do other times of the day - use her scissors, thread small beads, etc. Sometimes she resists quiet time but I remind her that it is her time to do projects, play, or read without interference. Then, during the rest of the day, the message is that she needs to be patient with her sister and tailor her play so that it is fun for everyone.

I grew up with only one sister who was less than two years younger than me. While I really hope to have a larger family, I do think sometimes about all the creative things I was able to do as a girl and wonder how that ever happens in big families... do you just give up on child-proofing at some point because all the toys have small parts? I would be very interested to hear from some of the homeschoolers how they manage this, and any special things they do to keep their 1 - 3 year olds happily occupied during school or craft times.

Alexis said...

I think that "privacy" is a different issue then what you described here. This seems to be more a discussion about "alone time". Privacy is something that doesn't really come into play until the kids are quite a bit older, although even at age 7 the Church gives them the "right to privacy" in the confessional so I think there is some balance there - not an blanket denial of it's legitimacy. Not having children older then four I'm reluctant to really put in my two cents about older kids. But here is what I think of alone time, especially for smaller people.
I definitely "believe in"/respect any person's need for space and alone time. Especially a child of a large family, as many Catholic families are wont to be.
I come from a very vibrant Catholic community and while I'm only one of five I know many families with 10, 11, 12 kids and those children are now adults. The kids who seem the most bitter and resentful of the large-family-dynamic always seem to be the older children of those families who felt that too much was asked of them - and constant "family time" is one of the big demands.
Secondly, I have a 4-year old boy who's favorite activity is building train tracks. I make sure that he has a space to do this that is away from his little siblings because, quite simply, they will destroy his work. He needs to be able to develop this "skill" and have the time alone to really get into his imaginative play. These are important developmentally for him. [There is a flip-side thought: He knows that any toy that he is playing with in a common area he must share, and I often encourage him to teach his sister how to play WITH him]
My third point is that depending on the child's personality type it could be even more important for them to have alone time. My son is a true introvert and even though I am an extrovert I can tell how exhausting it is for him to be around people all the time. So usually I give him all the space he wants (also, divide and conquer is sometimes the only tool that keeps me alive by the end of the day).
Sorry this is so long - that's unlike me!

Elizabeth M said...

I agree with Stephanie. She may be calling it "privacy" but what she really wants is some time to play by herself without having to worry about what her brother may do! I think it is important for everyone to have a little quiet time once in a while, whether it is for prayer, reading, playing, or just day dreaming. I also think it's a good think to instill some sense of of this, whether you call it privacy or something else. I don't associate privacy with immorality (although clearly it could be abused) nor do I associate private privacy in our home with the type of claims of privacy used in public debate. I think of privacy at home as a level of consideration. Certainly as children get older, there is the need for some personal privacy in terms of their bodies. We are reminding ourselves to knock on our 10-year-old son's room before we walk in, not because he's hiding something (or that we wouldn't walk right in if we needed to), but just to show some respect. The children do not walk in on each other in the bathroom anymore. It's this kind of privacy that I think is a good thing. I also don't think that moms needing a little time to themselves is selfish. It's whatever you need to refresh yourself for all you need to do during the day. If it helps you face the day more peacefully or lovingly, than it is actually one of the least selfish things you can do!
Sorry to ramble, but I was struck by so many thoughts in reading your post. To be honest, I never even thought of privacy as something to avoid or be concerned about. Perhaps it's just important to think through what we mean by privacy and determine what type of consideration we each need.

Sophie said...

I don't want to be redundant, but I too think it's important for older kids to be able to explore things on their own at times if doing it with their siblings would "ruin" it just because of the nature of the activity.
There are certain toys and activities, that in our house are "upstairs, bedroom" activities, because I want the older ones to be able to do them freely without the baby destroying them. There are plenty of things that they do with him and don't mind if he "helps!" Also, I think there is something in the oldest child (especially if there is a bigger gap until the 2nd) that they may need some more alone time in their own space.
I too think that we probably shouldn't put a blanket statement on privacy. There are times in our house where we teach the kids that privacy is needed. Mom needs privacy in the restroom. Mom and baby need some privacy when putting the little one down for a nap. Older kids need privacy in the restroom too. And the confessional is also a good example.

I certainly understand though, the revulsion to the "right to privacy" in a pro-lifer's ears! But we all know that's a distortion of the word and therefore we shouldn't dismiss it all together.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you're giving this thought and getting input. I second what Alexis wrote, esp. about personality types. But I'd add that extroverts need some 'alone time', too! And it's not only from siblings, but away from parents, too. I'm an adult single child, and had a complete lack of privacy or alone time growing up--couldn't close my door, couldn't count on being left alone even while I showered, was subject to interruption of all activities other than homework. I'm distant from my parents as an adult with kids. Why? Because I Never got to set any boundaries as long as I lived in their house. It's caused a lot of resentment once I left home/had kids, because once I started setting and enforcing boundaries they were completely unprepared to recognize it.

Now, I think the situation I was in was abnormal & most parents would have the sense to recognize an adolescent's need to learn at home how to set/negociate some boundaries. But I'm speaking up because I think what happened is that the pattern that became a later cause of alienation started when I was a small child. Please think about how your children will learn to set & negociate boundaries for themselves! It's an important social skill for them to learn.

Bethany said...

The best definition of privacy I've ever hear was on the show 7th Heaven, several years ago. And while the whole definition doesn't really stand up, the part about privacy I think does. It went something like this.

"I guess I just can't explain this often enough. A right is something that can never be taken away from you. [I don't know if I agree with the prior without it being tweaked a little]For example, you have the right to be indignant now, and I can't take that away, but privacy? Well, privacy is a privilege when you live with your parents, and privileges can be taken away."(Annie Camden, 7th Heaven, season 5, episode 7. Bye

Like I said, though-I like the take on privileges especially when discussing privacy with children of any age.

I agree with everyone, that I think you daughter is more mistaking privacy for simply personal space and alone time. Perhaps simply gently correcting her when she says privacy but means alone time.

But I even now teach my 7 1/2 year old that privacy is a privilege that must be earned and with privilege comes responsibility. If responsibility is not shown then privileges get revoked, including privacy. The more responsibility he shows, the more privacy or whatever the privilege he's requesting he can have, if the responsibility wanes, so do the privileges.

Ultimately I guess my point about privacy is that it really is about responsibility. The more the child shows responsible valued behaviour, the more privacy that child should be allowed to have, and the flip side is- the more responsible that child becomes the more that child will realize they don't need as much privacy as they thought they did.

Mary Alice said...

I agree about the distinction of alone time, which I think is very important, especially to be able to do things without younger siblings interfering sometimes.

As far as actual privacy goes:

I want my kids to want privacy when they do private things, like go to the bathroom.

I don't think that privacy is just about time to do something wrong, and in fact we are trying to cultivate a spirit of honesty so that you can be trusted, then you will get alone time and respect. My four year old doesn't like to go to the bathroom, and if we send him into the bathroom alone he will lie and say that he has gone. So, he has lost the right to privacy in the bathroom, we need to be there with him to make sure that he goes so that he does not have an accident later, but we want him to work towards being honest and trustworthy.

There was a celebrity whose son died of a drug overdose, and he says that parents should do ANYTHING when they suspect a kid is using drugs, that at that time there is no right to privacy becuase you really need to try to save them.

We have told our kids that if they are trust worthy they will earn freedoms like getting to walk to the neighbors house by themselves, etc, which will increase as they get older.

I think that if you don't give them some of these privelages, they will not know how to handle the freedoms which will come inevitably when they leave your home. However, baby steps, even with teens.

With older kids, my mom once told me, nothing good happens after midnight. She was absolutely right, and I wish that I had listened to her sooner. I had to learn the hard way that she was right, but maybe we all do? Would it have been better if she had enforced a strict midnight curfew? I am not sure.

We were all kids once and we all know the truth, nothing good happens at senior beach week or prom night slumber parties, etc.

My grandmother believed in very little privacy for kids, and I tend to agree, outside of the bathroom/changing/shower, time.

Stay At Home Teacher said...

Long time lurker, first time poster! I have an 8 1/2 year old b, 2 1/2 year old b/g twins, and a 15 month old g. Our oldest boy must play in his room with the door closed most of the time because of small legos, paper books, markers, etc. But he likes to be out with everyone and be part of the group. Our solution was to put a baby gate across his doorway. Now, the little ones can go up to his door, look in, and talk to him and he can play without worrying about little pieces in baby mouths! It may not be so much an issue of "privacy" but not wanting creations destroyed by little hands.

AWOL Mommy said...

Thank you for the ever-flowing words of wisdom. I have gleaned a lot from your collective wisdom. In the Army we are trained to always ask young soldiers for a "brief back" after telling them something. This ensures that the soldier understood the intent of what you told him/her. So here is my brief back to you: I shouldn't obliterate all alone time out of fear of something sinister that isn't there, she needs time alone to develop her mind and imagination. However, privacy is a privilege. and, most importantly, nothing good EVER happens at senior beach week.

The week is off and running, have a good one.

Anonymous said...

I only scanned the other comments, but it seems that I disagree. I think your 4 year old needs to suck it up and deal with her brother. We have eight kids and ain't none of them allowed to push their one year old brother out of the room to build a lego this or a my pretty pony that. I'm not saying I never rescue the older ones from a destructive sibling or try to protect some special project. But the normal default rule is learn to live with your siblings and include them and be nice to them. Better lessons than that we all need alone time and privacy. The desire for alone time comes pretty naturally -- the discipline to love and share need more support. Again, not an ironclad rule, but for the most part, our kids must include everyone in everything.

AWOL Mommy said...

Thanks, Anon. I like your perspective, and the point about fighting our selfish natures is well taken. 8 kids! You need to get yourself a screen name and become a regular on this blog.

katie said...

Just to clarify - I didn't see any mention of "push[ing] the one year old". I agree that every child must learn patience and generosity in dealing with others, especially siblings who sometimes annoy. BUT -
that goes BOTH WAYS! The younger child must also be taught - and cannot always have what s/he wants.
What has worked for our children has been upholding the POSITIVE value that we want to emphasize - i.e. being kind, patient, generous, loving - and a kindly request for some "alone time" would be more likely fulfilled at our house. I worry about the ultimate outcome of unrelenting enforced togetherness - we all make choices about who we want to spend time with - why would it be WRONG for a child to do the same?