Have you ever spoken to your child in a way that left you feeling disappointed in yourself? Perhaps you were going through a stressful time and you found yourself ‘snapping’, using language or physical power with your child in a way that you later regretted.
Many of us begin our parenting career with hopes of parenting in a way that is in alignment with certain values. Under the effects of our own emotional pain however, we can become removed from those values, removed from the purpose behind our parenting. We can feel like a ship in stormy seas, floundering with nothing solid to anchor to.
Sadly, the scenario of over-stressed, overwhelmed parents is all too common in our society. Lacking the physical and emotional support we need to maintain clarity, the family values we aspire to can fly out the window.
An essential parenting skill of course is to recognize when we need help. We will recognise ‘crisis mode’ by our continual anger, frustration or desperation, feelings of hopelessness or depression. These emotions tell us that we have important needs that are not being met. Seeking the support of an understanding friend or counselor, taking some personal space or doing things that give us enjoyment can bring some much-needed perspective.
Further, reconnecting to our purpose as parents can help us remain ‘conscious’ in our decision making, offering guidance and a more clearly illuminated path, especially during difficult times.
Assessing our parenting strategies
In clarifying the purpose of our parenting and assessing the value of parenting strategies, there are two questions we may like to ask ourselves. These questions are based on the model of Nonviolent Communication developed by Marshall B. Rosenberg.
In any given situation where I am wanting something of my child, I can ask:
1) What do I want my child to do?
2) What do I want my child’s reason to be for doing as I ask?
Do I want my child to do as I ask because they are fearful about what will happen if they don’t, or because they have a genuine desire to cooperate and participate in the requested activity i.e. they are intrinsically motivated?
When parents in crisis mode use power over their children with strategies of punishment, threats or ‘sugar-coated’ threats known as rewards, children will respond out of fear, guilt, obligation or the seeking of reward. When we make demands, use criticism or labeling (e.g. “don’t be a naughty boy”) to ‘invite’ cooperation, our child is being coerced into action rather than being empowered with making their own choice.
Consequences of crisis parenting
Doing whatever works, for peace in the moment, has its consequences. A ‘quick fix’ strategy, such as using a threat, may provide some immediate relief in our state of anguish; yet important values that we strive to model and to live (e.g. integrity, compassion and respectful communication) may be overlooked, leaving us feeling uneasy and disillusioned. We may find ourselves saying “I don’t like how I handled that. I know there’s a better way.”
The consequence to our children when we use ‘power-over’ strategies is that they are likely to feel resentful and hurt. They may lash out or withdraw from us in attempts to safeguard their emotional and/or physical wellbeing. They may question whether they can ever really trust us to understand what’s going on for them. Further, our children will be denied the experience of contributing to our lives in ways that are satisfying and enjoyable to them.
At home with siblings and at school with peers, our children practice daily their new found skills for interrelating. If we have taught children that the way to get what we want in life is to threaten, bribe, demand, insult, criticise or use physical violence, we will likely ‘see ourselves’ in the ways our children attempt to resolve conflict. We therefore may wish to consider the larger social consequences of our example.
Reflect for a moment on your own childhood. Was there someone who regularly used ‘power-over’ strategies with you? How did you feel about this as a child? How is the quality of your adult relationship with this person?
Some parents say that using punishment “keeps children respectful”. Having genuine respect for the needs of others is distinct to being compliant (motivated by fear). We confuse these concepts because we are so focused on the immediate goal of cooperation – at any cost. A child who has learnt to be obedient will grow up to face the world in a very different way to one who trusts and respects themselves and others.
Parenting in a different way
Our answer to the second question “what do I want my child’s reason to be for doing as I ask?” can therefore serve as a reminder – a reminder of a desire to parent in a different way; different from the way in which many of us were raised and different to the style of parenting that society at large models for us.
When we re-connect to a desire to parent in a way that promotes trust, mutual respect, honesty, openness and deep connection with one another, it can become easier to stay ‘conscious’ i.e. present and empathic through negotiations. We can be honest about what we’re feeling, and at the same time be open to hearing what’s going on for our child. We demonstrate through our actions and words an attitude of trust that disagreements can be resolved peacefully, and an understanding that everyone’s needs matter equally.
As parents there will undoubtedly be times where we will use ‘protective’ power with our children. This is very different to using power over them. We may employ protective power, or protective use of force, when the health or safety of our child or other people is at risk (e.g. we may physically remove our child from a situation for their safety). By comparison, ‘power-over’ strategies stem from anger and a belief in punishment.
Underlying conscious parenting is a desire to raise children who are independent thinkers, creative problem-solvers, confident, peace-loving, compassionate human beings; children motivated by their own inner desire to contribute to life, rather than by the allure of external reward or the threat of punishment.
The journey of conscious parenting therefore begins with our intention – an intention for ourselves, for our children and for our world. Imagining the type of relationship we’d like with our children when they are adults can be a wonderful place to start. Let’s also celebrate and acknowledge those moments for which we feel the most pride and joy in our parenting, for it will be those moments of connection with our child that will speak to us most clearly of our purpose.
Knowing the purpose behind our parenting can provide the solid anchor when stormy seas come.
“As parents, we have a remarkable opportunity to live and model a different paradigm with our children, one that empowers them with life skills for connecting with others, resolving conflicts and contributing to peace.” Inbal Kashtan – Author of “Parenting from your Heart”
Hart, S., Kindle Hodson, V. (2006) Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids. PuddleDancer Press: Encinitas, CA.
Kashtan, I. (2003) Parenting From Your Heart. PuddleDancer Press: Encinitas, CA.
Rosenberg, M.B. (2003) Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life (2nd Edition). PuddleDancer Press: Encinitas, CA.