Once upon a time, the Daubney’s three-year-old child, Sonny, was a total pain. And I do mean PAIN. He just wouldn’t sleep. In fact, he wouldn’t stay in his room unless physically restrained by one of his parents. Refusing to spend more than a couple of minutes in bed at night – or any other time for that matter – on the surface, this enthusiastic little boy who couldn’t sit still doesn’t sound particularly unique or different. Most of us have, at one time or another, been told that we were unbearable as children, or teenagers, or maybe even adults. Yet at night, when most little boys and girls were tucked-up safely in bed without as much as a murmur, Sonny was out on the rampage, making sleep for his parents impossible and defying the baby-gate at the top of the stairs like some kind of crazed miniature escape-artist. If day-time was difficult for Diana, Martin’s wife, then night-time was, at times, almost impossible for the couple to deal with. At night Sonny would wander the house doing the kind of things that inhabit every parent’s worst nightmares: turning the cooker on and off, knocking over the knife stand, running around and generally being a little bloody mischief – what sounds a lot like the living embodiment of Chucky from the horrific yet amusing Child’s Play series, to be honest (but not this thing also named Child’s Play). Understandably, concerning all this, some people can’t help but think: it’s their child, so whatever he’s doing then it must be their fault for bringing him up that way. Yet the real world isn’t always so easy to unravel and analyse, is it? (Or maybe it is, perhaps I’m just a bit thick.) Plenty of people who were brought up with model parents turn to a life of crime for absolutely no explanation. The mass murderers who had kind, loving, loyal parents, are only half as interesting as the more grisly stories which make better TV.
The point is this: after six-months of patiently following the experts advice, Martin Daubney was pissed off, tired and he’d had just about enough. According to him, both he Diana had tried everything reasonably within their power to keep their three-year-old boy, Sonny, in his bed, and nothing worked. Nothing made a tangible difference. They loved the boy with all their heart, but nothing made things easier. And listening to Martin talk openly about this controversial subject on This Morning today, it was clear that he wasn’t exactly expecting everyone to applaud him and say what a nice guy he was. The Daily Mail online — as with other papers and online sources — had simultaneously published a story which had seen scores of nasty comments, and by the looks of it, public opinion was anything but on the couple’s side…
The Daubney’s problem was a common one which, up until now — thanks to it having nothing to do with Gangnam style, iPads or the end of the world as predicted by the Mayans, presumably — hasn’t exactly been front-line news for the nation. Now, thanks to lots of welcome and unwelcome media attention, the country — or the world — seems to be utterly divided. It’s even got to the point where bloggers without children, like me, have become interested enough to start getting on their high horses (or just giving their take on it, as I’d much prefer people saw it).
Either way, some understand the Daubney’s plight and sympathise greatly, having been there and witnessed this predicament first-hand, while others think it was foolhardy and downright dangerous — at worst, serious child abuse worthy of criminal prosecution. Could locking a child in his or her room cause long-term psychological problems? Is it possible that the Daubney’s decision to make this issue public — if it indeed was their decision — might trigger a landslide of irresponsible parenting, the likes of which we’ve never seen before? Maybe. I suppose it could. I’m not sure. It’s very hard to say.
Personally, after both listening to what Martin had to say, and reading about what the couple have been through, I doubt it. The following are some key conclusions I have come to, which you may or may not agree with.
1: Parent or no parent, one thing I realised as I started writing this is very simple and has almost nothing to do with having children: not everyone — and this is obviously not their fault — really understands what it means to not be able to sleep for a prolonged period of time, and not understanding this means that it’s incredibly difficult to put yourself in the same headspace that the couple were in when they were forced into a corner. Most of us have had colds or insomnia at one or more point in time, but not everyone knows what it’s like to actually go without sleep for days or months on end — something which can cause hallucinations, a dangerous build-up of depression and a severe decline in decision-making ability, among many other things (I know this because, when I was seriously ill between 2006 and 2009, I went a full 9 days with only a few minutes sleep). The fact is this: the Daubney’s were in a very difficult position when they – or Martin – decided to lock their child in his room at night, and they weren’t thinking straight. Unable to operate normally and falling asleep at work, among other things, Martin didn’t have lots of different choices open to him, and internet research proved to be polarised at either end of the spectrum, further adding confusion. What would you do, really, if you were in his/their shoes? He’s admitted numerous times that he’s not proud of what they felt they had to do, and at no time has he said that it’s a solution which every parent should seek to follow.
2: There’s been an awful lot of talk about the damage this might do, or might already have done, to the child in question. Yet, much as this is worth considering and should be researched, what keeps coming to my mind is: what might have happened if the Daubney’s hadn’t taken this decision when they did? (A decision that many parents may have taken but not made public, for fear of what might be said.) Would the stress have become so bad, so difficult to manage, that something terrible might have happened either to them or to Sonny? And if it had, let’s be honest: plenty of people would have been asking why the couple didn’t just lock the child in his room, which, it has to be said, does sound like the simplest solution. Maybe not the right one, but the simplest and obvious, under the circumstances. I suppose it’s a case of you really had to be there.
3: Really, what is this a debate about? Is it about how best to keep a child safe at night – a family safe – or a debate about unlawfully imprisoning a child? Both? I wonder what the public reaction might have been if the boy, Sonny, had taken a knife from the kitchen, marched back upstairs and stuck it in his sleeping father. Extreme, yes, but not impossible, surely. Would it have been the parents fault for not having put the knives out of the way, or the parents fault for not somehow predicting that this might one day happen, even though there were no real clues that such violence could take place? Or would it have been the local GPs fault for not having seen the danger signs from way off, months in advance? At what point does it become responsible parenting to lock your child in his or her room? Clearly parents need more help with this kind of thing. If this story highlights anything, it’s that parents have long been left to their own devices when it comes to this kind of thing.
Apart from all this, why is it good or preferable to have a child’s bedroom door unlocked when there are so many dangers in a house environment? Co-sleeping is a fine idea, but what if the child refuses to stay in bed?
Ask yourself this. Could you call the authorities and say “We’ve got a problem…we need help,” and not fear that they’d take your baby away?
4: I suppose all this has made me think what I might do if the same thing happened to me. If I’d been in their position and now had the world watching me, judging me. To that, it’s easy for me to say I’d call my doctor and demand to get some help for my son or daughter. I’d fight for someone to help us, so that I wouldn’t have to lock my child in their room for a single minute – something which might increase their fear or anxiety and do genuine harm to them. I’d like to think I would say that, at least. I just can’t be sure I would, had I not read about the Daubney story.
5: Obviously, though, let’s make one thing crystal clear: there are many flaws with locking your child in his or her room at night. Look closer and there are lots of other smaller – but no less important – arguments that rapidly spring to mind. For example, what if something was to happen to the parents and the child, locked in, couldn’t escape his room in order to both help them and raise the alarm? What about fires? Valid as these points are, perspective and context are equally crucial: the Daubney’s aren’t and never have been advocating that all parents blindly do this, and it would have been far easier for them to keep quiet and avoid the hassle. When Martin Daubney spoke on This Morning, you could see he wasn’t proud of any of this. That appearing on TV wasn’t fun or comfortable (Diana argued against the decision to lock the door, to begin with, until Martin made it plain that it was either that or he move out). After five-months the bolt on the door was gone and now, the family are better than they’ve ever been – Sonny included.
So as they say, hindsight is a wonderful thing. It’s easy to see someone’s mistakes when they’ve made them and they are not you. I for one think that whatever your opinion, the Daubney’s have done an important thing by making their mistakes and story public. As some have said, it’s hardly groundbreaking news – and I do agree with them on this – but at the same time, we all need reminding every once in a while. I do think we — all of us, not just the parents — should be asking these questions. After all, if the future parents of tomorrow can benefit from past mistakes, that has to be a good thing, surely.
Maybe it’s all the stories that have appeared on the back of this which are swaying the argument, making the couple out to be the poster-adults of awful parenting. Maybe it’s just that the Daubney’s are actually talking about it and that feels…weird, or wrong. Maybe that’s why this story has attracted such rage and concern. On TV, on radio, in the papers. Hardly the done thing, in a time where it’s much easier to go online and keep complete control of what you write in the comments sections. I wonder, above all else, if locking a child in his or her room in very exceptional circumstances is any worse than shouting loudly at them in the supermarket (which I have seen countless times) or threatening to smack their bums if they dare to scream again (which I’ve also witnessed) or smoking around children (I’d be shocked if someone said they hadn’t seen this)?
I may not have children of my own just yet, but show me one parent who hasn’t shouted at their child or children and then regretted doing so. I’m not looking forward to making lots of hideous parental mistakes if I ever have a family, but maybe, just maybe, that’s the way things need to be.