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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

GROWING PAINS: Letting Children Romp: Lesson in Responsibility







Yesterday, my 7-year-old Anna was bitten in the butt by one of the South Russian Hounds my mother-in-law keeps at the dacha.


Because my three kids are living out at the dacha now, I suppose this was only to be expected from guard dogs more interested in guarding their food bowls than their owners.


But my mother-in-law's reaction was also predictable: "It's her own fault!" she said, rounding on me as I was inspecting Anna's rear-end -- "I told her not to go near them when they're eating. But no, she has to be disobedient. It's this "do-what-you-like" upbringing of yours. Your children behave appallingly -- like all English children."


Which brings me to the point in hand. Are my children appalling or outgoing? Are they disobedient or thinking for themselves? Am I developing their individuality or letting them run wild?


The Russian family that has rented out half our dacha has two children who are quiet and subdued. They play cards instead of doing somersaults down the sand heap or catching frogs, and because they're always neat and clean, they never go climbing trees or cycling through puddles for fear of getting dirty.


This unquestioning obedience is all very impressive, and I have to admit that by Russian standards, my shrieking, stubborn, quarreling children don't compare at all well, but then I'm hoping that not only will they have a fun childhood (bitten butts apart), but that they'll develop a certain responsibility for their own actions (like a bitten butt).


Maybe my laissez-faire attitude is a reaction to living in Russia, which, in itself, has a sobering effect on the children. In public places, they can be as meek and quiet as anyone, because they fear being told off not by mummy, but by everyone else. They don't even dare pick dandelions in the park any more.


On a recent sizzling hot day, we had to wait for half an hour for friends on the tarmac outside the Kosmos Hotel. When I told the kids they could paddle in the fountain they all looked at me in shock (even the 3-year-old) before patiently explaining that they couldn't possibly, because they'd be ordered out before their toes touched the water. They preferred heat exhaustion to that.


At least the mom of a little Russian girl who came to spend the weekend at the dacha was happy to see them all romping around unchecked. "Children get told off in school, on the street, in shops, everywhere! That's why they go around looking like they've been whipped by nettles," she said.


On the other hand, maybe one can get carried away with this be-your-own-person thing: When visiting the States, I overheard a 3-year-old girl ordering her mom out of the public toilet stall. "And close the door," the tot said imperiously. "I'd like some privacy."