I have made a lot of parenting mistakes over the past 25 years. I have stumbled and struggled many times.
I never gave up on the philosophy however. When things went awry, I would pick myself up, give myself some love, rededicate myself to the Non Coercive, Collaborative Mindset, and try again.
I call it “Stumbling With Purpose”.
Even with all the mistakes, the purposeful Stumbling builds conscious layers and patterns. One thing I know, is that my child knows I don’t control them. She knows this from her nose to her toes. I have never put myself in the power position that would allow me to control her. We are not the same, but we are equals.
When my kid was born, I knew I wanted to do things differently. I wanted to not yell, to not use punishments and consequences, to collaborate on decisions. However that was not enough for me, I wanted more (I always want more!)
Those things I considered the branches of the Conscious Parenting Tree, but I wanted the Trunk, I wanted the Roots, I wanted to go all the way into the Earth. What is the deepest relationship I can have? How can I foster a truly non-violent, consent based, deeply connected, relationship with this human?
One of the prime ingredients of going into the Earth with my child was choosing not to control them. It is so normalized in society for parents to control their kids. The idea of not controlling them, of honoring their choices, of refusing to violate their consent and autonomy, is so radical that even now whenever I post about it, people defend the practice.
They say adults know more, we have more experience, children’s frontal lobe isn’t developed, they don’t think long term, they can’t make decisions for themselves, therefore they need to be controlled.
Whenever we want to use power and violence to control someone, we can always find a reason. However, none of those reasons necessitate that we control our children. There are other ways to care for our kids. Other ways to keep them safe, that don’t involve holding power over them.
After a couple of decades treating my kid this way, she knows deep inside that I do not control her, I do not want to control her, that I do not set myself up as somebody who has the right to control her.
So often as parents, even when we’re trying to be collaborative, we hold that control in our back pocket. When kids know that we give ourselves permission to control them, they always have to keep one eye open around us. They put up a protective barrier around their hearts. They cannot be totally vulnerable with us because they can never be sure when the collaborative parent is going to show up, or when the controlling parent is going to show up.
If we take that choice off the table altogether, children are able to relax into our relationship, into our guidance. This is when a deeper trust is formed.
Choosing to not control our kids is a big mindset leap. It fundamentally shifts all of our decision making, it shifts our perspective, and our priorities. It is a different way of engaging with our kids. It is a different way of looking at relationships.
I know very well there are lots of seemingly reasonable reasons why we should control our children sometimes. As my kid was growing up we fought together as a family to resist using control at all costs. People witnessing our family dynamic we’re often confused by it. Folks would regularly tell me how I was ruining my kid by not imposing control and boundaries. Treating my kid as an equal seemed irresponsible. To this day, 25 years later, I still get those comments on just about every post I publish!
The fact that I have been hearing those comments for so many years, decades, it gives me great confidence in the Non-Coercive, Collaborative Parenting philosophy. The trust that has developed between my kid and I over 25 years of doing this work could not exist in a relationship where she cannot rely on my non-violence.
Letting go of this kind of control can be quite scary because it’s a big unknown. We don’t know how our kids are going to respond to having more freedom. We don’t know what’s going to happen to our relationship with them. We don’t know how their behavior will change. This is one of the big leaps of trust we take.
We trust our kid’s path, their process, their wisdom. Those are the big three I always pay attention to, trusting their path, trusting their process, trusting their wisdom.
When we control our children it feels much more predictable. It feels safer somehow. A relationship of freedom carries an inherent risk. Risk can be scary!
This is one of the situations when it’s important for us to be aware of our deep priorities. In our parenting we often face Competing Priorities. For example, I might have a priority for my kids to eat well. I also have a priority for them to learn to have a positive relationship with their bodies and with food. I also have a priority to be a safe space a trusted guide.
When we face competing priorities, sometimes we have to choose one over the other. If we take the above example, my priority for my kid to eat well might make me want to control their eating. They can’t just eat whatever they want. What if they want ice cream before dinner?
Parents often say that because they are responsible for their kids they have to say no and stop their kids from having ice cream before dinner. Especially if they had ice cream yesterday. They feel they have to set a boundary.
Even with the best if intentions, there is no way to stop your kid from having ice cream against their will, without using power and violence. If you don’t exert your power over them, they could just go get the ice cream. This is the problem with non-consensual limits and boundaries.
Every time we use this kind of power and control, we degrade the relationship of trust between ourselves and our kids.
This is why we need to be conscious of our priorities. I call it the hierarchy of priorities. My other priorities around food are that my kid develops a deep relationship with their own body, a healthy relationship with food, and a trusting relationship with me as their guide.
If I set those as my deeper priorities then it makes it easier for me to make the decision to not control their eating. It also means I have to find other ways of dealing with situations. This is an important point because a lot of people are under the impression that there are only two options, control our kids or do nothing. This is a false dichotomy. In fact there is another option, a collaborative, co-learning, co-exploring option. It takes some time and effort to learn the skill, but it is absolutely possible for us to guide our children without control, power, and force.
When I have to make a decision about how I’m going to work with my kid, I tune into my deepest priorities. I also recognize my sub priorities. I don’t want to ignore those, but I want to make sure I work with them in a way that honors my deepest priorities.
So if we take the ice cream example, if one of my deepest priorities is to preserve the trusting relationship with my kid, I cannot use any power over methods to work with my other priority of caring about them eating well. I don’t ignore the sub priority, I find ways to work with it so that I can honor the main priority.
In Conscious Parenting, in Non-Coercive, Collaborative Parenting, Gentle, Peaceful, Responsive, etc. We strive to treat our children with the utmost respect for their humanity. This means we need to engage with them in a way that is not violent and oppressive, even if we think it’s good for them. Because, of course, oppressing people because we think it’s good for them is an ancient practice.
I want to encourage you to daily dig deeper into how you can let go of controlling your child. Look for all the ways you exert power over them. This can be hard when the power makes things convenient! However the effort you put into this will inspire your kids to know you respect their humanity, they drop their armour and open themselves to you. True Non-Coercion nourishes a profound relationship of connection and trust with your kids unlike anything else can.