Ivanhoe Swift Left Home at Six
Allen & Unwin, March 2019
I wrote this story a few months after our daughter and second child, Lizzie, left home. Our son Wil had left home a few years before that, and I witnessed in each of them a need to both assert their independence and to recalibrate their relationship to us (their parents) and to the security of the family home.
I see Ivanhoe as a restless, intelligent and curious child who yearns to experience things for himself, and it’s this need that has caused him to leave home.
Ivanhoe’s battle is a battle between connection/belonging and independence/freedom. About finding the balance between being a self-sufficient person and being connected emotionally to others.
In earlier drafts of the story, Ivanhoe didn’t actually go back to his parents, but remained independent. The final scene was him having invited his parents over for dinner! But some people who read these versions of the story thought that this might be a bit too confronting for parents!
Ivanhoe’s challenge is to establish himself as independent and separate from his parents and to some extent the small world that he comes from – he does this by managing on his own (even when he’s afraid), being brave, making decisions, being physically tested, resolving difficulties, recognising inherent value in a particular friend. Once he has explored the world to some degree and asserted his independence/ability to survive on his own, he can welcome his parents back into his life. The lesson he’s learned is that you can be independent, establish your own sense of self, but you still need the comfort of a loving family. And sometimes you have to ‘leave home’ to realise that!
The main message (or area of exploration) of the story for me is the (often life-long) push and pull of independence/freedom/self-determination vs dependence/belonging/potential subjugation of self in the face of family. I see this tension in toddlers and young children and in adolescents - and in adults, too!
I suppose a key theme or life lesson in the story is that you can be independent/develop your own sense of self and also exist in loving, emotional relationships/connections too. It’s not a case of having one at the expense of the other.
Ivanhoe will explore the world more in the future. He’s taken the first vital steps.