It’s so common to see parents parenting against their children. Well meaning parents, so used to societies need to control kids, getting lost in a pattern of Us vs Them. These power struggles are such a trap!
This goes for all facets of living with children. From their learning to everyday practical life. Popular parenting help books and blogs are littered with ‘How do I get them to eat?’, ‘Making learning fun‘ and ‘How to stop nagging’ etc etc.
My wishes for children: I wish they could grow according to their natural pace, sleep when sleepy, eat when hungry, cry when upset, play and grow without being unnecessarily interrupted. To be allowed to grow and blossom as each was meant to be. – Magda Gerber.
Essentially, making parenting out to be simply a means to get kids to be ‘good’. It’s a cycle. A vicious cycle of pitting the parents’ wants against the child’s as though children are inherently out to get us and working against us… while sending them that very message. Does that make sense?
Let me try to explain it another way. We parent with means of control (for the wrong reasons) with these preconceived ideas that kids need to be forced to be well-behaved (or kind or take care of themselves or learn) while consistently and thoroughly sending them the message that they are incapable without manipulation from us.
It’s the simple matter of expecting the worst of children instead of trusting that with support and respect you can work together towards these common goals.
The message that is sent when you parent against – instead of with – children is: ‘I don’t trust you’.
Parenting with a you vs them mentality results primarily in frustration. It might work sometimes but it doesn’t lead to connection and mutual respect. It doesn’t result in intrinsic motivation.
What you generally end up with is either obedience for obedience sake or defiance. Neither are really what any respectful parent is hoping for.
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Choosing connection over correction.
There is another way. But it requires parents to do some unlearning if they have been raised in an authoritarian household. It requires trusting children. It requires working hard on connection. It goes against what we – in modern western society – believe is normal and necessary.
Let me first say, it’s a process. For the great majority of us, we’re used to being controlled ourselves. We were sent this very message as children and teens – repeatedly. The notion of control over trust is so deeply ingrained that it’s bound to take time to unlearn and form new positive habits.
“Some who support [more] coercive strategies assume that children will run wild if they are not controlled. However, the children for whom this is true typically turn out to be those accustomed to being controlled— those who are not trusted, given explanations, encouraged to think for themselves, helped to develop and internalize good values, and so on. Control breeds the need for more control, which is used to justify the use of control.” – Alfie Kohn, Punished by Rewards.
Firstly, if you haven’t already, learning how rewards and punishments are unnecessary and unhelpful is a huge step in deconstructing the narrative that we are fed in our culture. What we do instead of punishing and manipulating matters.
“On a deeper psychological and social level, parental punishers of their children do so because their children make them anxious by confronting them with behaviors and feelings which the parents themselves have learned to hide, suppress, repress, and disown. They must condition their children as they were conditioned.” – Why Do We Hurt Our Children.
We are taught that without force and control, kids will be entitled, rude and run the house. It is a common misconception and I often hear parents say “If I let my kids do what they want (give them freedom) they wouldn’t make good choices/it would be chaos!”. It’s hard to accept or believe when you haven’t yet experienced it.
Let me be clear – parenting respectfully does not equal a lack of presence and support. Life is full of boundaries that we help respectfully navigate and natural consequences. You still developmentally help enforce safety. You model manners and values.
It means talking to your children. You discuss matters of emotional intelligence. You talk about how their choices impact others. It means helping them process big emotions when things don’t go their way. It means discussing right from wrong.
It’s not about giving up input or guidance but about how and why you are doing it.
There’s no ten step program to this. It’s quite simply (yet not so simply) making the commitment daily to relinquish unnecessary control, while trusting and deepening connection and positive communication with your children.
It means working on your own triggers. It means recognising how ‘misbehaviour’ from children is a signal, not an offence.
At it’s core, it’s about building a strong relationship with your kids based on understanding, respect and compassion. Children are people too. Again, making connection a priority over correction.
Thank you for reading!
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This idea is so well articulated, Rachel. Love it!
Alicia Johnson says
I love this article! Thank you so much!
I run a page and support group on Facebook, Recovering From Authoritarian Parenting. I shared this article there. It speaks to the essence of what my page and group are all about!
Thank you again!