Control. It’s a supremely human response perfectly suited to our seemingly chaotic world. I have compassion for the many souls, including myself, who feel a strong desire to clutch at it in times of change – those “growth periods” that tumble our realities until we don’t recognize them. We each deal with uncertainty in our own way. It’s not unusual to find me scrubbing the bathtub or mopping the kitchen while waiting for an important phone call.
On some days, my son could easily feel the scratches from my grasps. On some days, it takes a hundred deep breaths not to string him up like a puppet and force him to act and be exactly as I would like. Or, at minimum, shower him with loud NOs and ultimatums until he bends to my will when he displays behavior I don’t like or understand. I guess I could. It’s always in my power. I am his parent. But I don’t. And hopefully I never will.
This is a difficult parenting style for many to understand. Even me sometimes. There is a fast growing number of parents like my husband and me exploring this way of being as a family, as well as organizations and information that support it. (Clicking here or Google-ing ‘peaceful parenting’ and ‘unschooling’ will give you a taste.) I happen to know several parents who embrace these ideas even more fully than I do, and I’m inspired continuously by them. Despite my description of the tougher days above, our home is relatively peaceful and happy because we’ve chosen to parent peacefully. That said, I don’t deny it can be difficult. As a way of maintaining my own enthusiasm, I’m offering some reminders below. I thought you might want to peak over my shoulder.
Being calm and patient is not easy for most kids, especially young kids, and it’s not synonymous with “well-behaved.” Outside of the first and last 30 minutes of every day, my five-year-old son rarely sits quietly for longer than five minutes at a time unless he’s strapped in a car seat. That includes story time, family game time and meals, especially if we’re at a restaurant. How can he possibly ignore all the new stimuli and people to pay attention to him? And why would we want him to?
New stimuli, new people, new discoveries, adventures, experiences, lessons, play, challenge, failure, success, creative expression, broken hearts and the rare broken bone. That’s why he’s here. That’s how we learn. The fact that his curiosity and high-energy disposition don’t lend themselves to quietly coloring for hours is not his fault. As long as he’s not doing any harm to himself or anyone else, we support his exploration and wild expressions. Even when it’s inconvenient or messy. Even when it’s annoying as hell or downright embarrassing. Even when it pushes the boundaries of acceptable child behavior or makes guests uncomfortable.
Clearly, not everyone agrees with our choice, and it’s not just the lady glaring at us in the cheese aisle at Trader Joe’s. (Reminder to self: It doesn’t matter.)
A recent Psychology Today article (click here to read for yourself) about how France responds to ADHD asserted that fewer French children are diagnosed with and prescribed drugs for it partly because of greater awareness of environmental factors that affect behavior like nutrition and underlying emotional issues. My child does not have ADHD, but it’s an issue I follow with care. I involuntarily nodded my head while reading this until I got to the line that asserted the vastly divergent parenting philosophies between the U.S. and France could be why “French children are generally better-behaved than their American counterparts.” The author goes on to say that it is likely French children behave this way because of their parents’ strict structure, rigid limits, clear family hierarchy and low tolerance for emotional outbursts. In the last few lines she criticizes American families for too often allowing children to control their household, often by crying. Thank you, dear author, for a perfect segue into my next reminder…
Our child benefits by having choices and a reasonable amount of control over his own life. Control and authority are not powers I take lightly when it comes to parenting. They aren’t currency that is earned, given up or given away, and they aren’t worth fighting over continuously simply to appease any desire to quash challenges to said authority, my own ego or external expectations. My son is, above all things, a human being. He is an equal member of the family. He deserves to be just as empowered in his own life as any other human being. Lessons are more impactful when he learns the consequences of his behavior not just from those I impose on him, but also from his own experience. It may be difficult for those supporting a more traditional parenting style to see from the outside, but giving him a measure of freedom and a say in our household is not the same as handing over control. Listening and addressing the source of the behavior instead of imposing more rules or punishing him for every misstep is not giving him the keys to the kingdom.
My authority comes from feeling confident and comfortable enough to allow him some power over his body, time and choices. My empowerment comes from knowing he feels empowered and offers me the respect I’ve also offered him. Our home is more peaceful because we’ve chosen to parent peacefully.
We need to remind ourselves every once in a while why we do what we do. Parenting choices are as complicated and varied as humanity – much more complicated than the relatively simple declarations I’ve offered here. There’s always more to say. But for now I just needed to give myself a strong reminder and a good talking to. In those difficult moments, when my son won’t stop stabbing his fork into the dining room table, when he’s decided to scream everything he says for a day, when I feel my clawed hand begin grappling for relief through totalitarian control, I will read this again.
I will remind myself why we’ve made the choices we have and why we’re worthy of them. I will remember our children are shining lights full of eccentric beauty, wisdom and love. They deserve the freedom to soar.
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