Gemma and Lewis Rawnsley live in northern England with their seven children:
At the time of this interview, Skye was 13, Finlay was 12, Phoenix was 9, Pearl was 8, Hunter was 5, Zephyr was 3, and Woolf was 1.
None of the Rawnsley children go to school — and no, they’re not homeschooled. Gemma and Lewis just don’t believe their kids should have to follow rules created by adults.
Instead, these so-called “feral” kids get to make all their own decisions. They choose how they want to dress, what they want to eat, what activities they want to do each day, and when they want to go to bed each night.
Her kids are allowed to swear, dye and cut their own hair, get tattoos and piercings, and do lots of other “adult” activities.
You never know what you’ll find on any given day in the Rawnsley household. Gemma and Lewis Rawnsley — parents of seven kids — don’t have rules for their little ones. All of the kids get to make their own decisions regarding food, clothing, and activities they take part in.
Pixabay / jackmac34
One child might be swinging an axe outside, another might be cutting their own hair, and yet another might be eating ice cream straight out of the carton. It’s not uncommon in the Rawnsley house for the kids to be doing things other parents would disapprove of.
Gemma and Lewis believe their kids should be allowed to be kids — that means the seven little ones don’t have to follow very many (if any) rules. They don’t have to go to school, they can use inappropriate language, and they can set their own bedtimes.
Wikimedia Commons / William Murphy
The kids are allowed to do basically anything they want. From choosing what they do each day to getting piercings and tattoos, they don’t really have any boundaries. “I make calculated decisions so if something seems dangerous I know it has risk attached, but the benefits are that they learn responsibility,” explains Gemma.
Gemma knows some people think she has a “feral” family, but she doesn’t see it that way.
She explains, “It’s about letting them make decisions, it’s not a feckless attitude where we sit back and let it all happen. It looks like we’re feral, but that’s just one side of us. Feral is left to your own devices, but these kids are brought up to the nth degree.”
Wikimedia Commons / M.O. Stevens
None of the Rawnsley kids attend school. Instead, they spend their days at home or at the park doing whatever is most fun.
“I didn’t have a stable upbringing,” explains Gemma. “My mission has been about helping my kids have the most interesting, fun and happy lives in a house filled with the love I never had.”
Because Gemma grew up in a loveless home fraught with violence, she wanted her kids to have a completely different experience.
Now, Gemma and Lewis raise their kids with one mission: to help them lead interesting, happy, fun, and fulfilling lives.
It’s not that Gemma doesn’t parent her children, it’s just that she gives them the freedom to live.
She weighs all the pros and cons of everything her kids ask to do. If she thinks the kids can learn something from the experience, she’ll let them proceed.
For example, many people might think that letting kids swing pick axes is too dangerous, but Gemma sees it as a calculated decision to help teach her children responsibility.
The Rawnsley parents don’t think school is always necessary for kids — they can learn a lot just from experiencing life.
When 8-year-old Pearl wanted to shave her head one day, her hairdresser mom simply handed her the clippers and told her how to do it.
The kids may be a bit behind in academics, but they have a lot of life experience that other kids don’t have.
Skye and Finlay, the two eldest kids, originally went to school, but then Gemma and Lewis decided the schooling system wasn’t right for their family. The rest of the kids have learned everything at home — Gemma and Lewis happily teach their kids anything they want to know, but they don’t force their kids to learn a specific curriculum.
Wikimedia Commons / ProjectManhattan
Nine-year-old Phoenix never went to school, and he didn’t want to learn to read until six months ago. Once he expressed interest (he needed to know how to read and write in order to message his friends on Xbox), Gemma and Lewis began teaching him.
When the kids are interested, their parents teach them how to read and write, but they don’t give them any exams or follow any official curriculum.
The only rules the kids are forced to follow? Don’t lie, don’t be offensive, and don’t hurt anyone.
Although people may think it’s weird, Gemma says they get a lot of compliments on their children’s behavior.
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Find out more about the Rawnsley family on Channel 4’s Feral Families.