Gemma and Lewis Rawnsley are not your average mom and dad. They are raising all seven children, who range in age from 12 months to 13 years, in a house where there are no rules or boundaries. That means the kids are free to play with axes, draw on walls, curse up a storm, and eat what they want (ice cream cones at 10 p.m.!)
Gemma and Lewis ask only that the children refrain from lying or hurting each other.
The parents from West Yorkshire in the U.K. opened up about raising children off-grid as part of a Channel 4 documentary called “Feral Families” airing on Thursday, October 26.
Off-Grid parenting entails ditching traditional concepts such as bedtimes, discipline or mainstream education.
“Right from the off, we felt really strongly that we didn’t want to be the sort of parents you see shouting at their kids in the supermarket,” Gemma, who works from home as a hairdresser, explained in the documentary, per The Daily Mail. “We felt that our children needed to be given the power to develop as people, to make their own decisions.”
That means if the kids want to slide down the stairs on mattresses, Gemma, 35, and her catering manager husband are happy to help them. “We are facilitators, so we will lift the mattresses for them. The conventional response would be to say: ‘No, you can’t take the mattresses and make a slide,’ but why not?” Gemma said. “We put cushions at the bottom. It is safe. And they have the most amazing fun that is wonderful to watch.”
Same goes for potentially hazardous tools. “People see my son with the pickaxe and will think, ‘How dangerous.’ But not if you teach them how to use it,” Gemma told U.K. newspaper The Mirror in a story published Monday, October 23. “I make calculated decisions so if something seems dangerous I know it has risk attached, but the benefits are that they learn responsibility.”
While Gemma, 35, and Lewis’ eldest Skye, 13, and Finlay, 12, started school in September, Phoenix, 9, Pearl, 7, Hunter, 5, Zephyr, 3, and Woolf, 12 months, are homeschooled while education inspectors visit annually.
In the documentary, Gemma explained she would never criticize people who send their kids to school, but added, “I do think they’re a little penned in there . . . and these guys are free. Every day for them is being a kid day. It’s just about being children.”
Gemma told The Mirror they “just go with the flow,” and there is no set schedule. “If the weather is good we sack it off and go out for the day,” she said. “If it’s raining then it’s a good day to stay in and do stuff. There are no boundaries so the kids get on with life and do what they want.”
Added Lewis, 31: “Finlay loves cooking and could put a three-course meal on the table. Homeschooling lets them learn life skills and they can do a lot of things other kids can’t.”
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