In case you didn’t know already, Taking Our Places is not exactly about parenting, it’s about the kind of parenting that I aspire to. In traditional parenting, we are told that parents are in control and that children must learn to behave in a proper way through our consistent use of discipline. We use time outs, consequences and rewards to ensure that our children “listen” and comply. And it often works, but not without a cost. Parenting that way can be a chore, a joyless power struggle. And our children may “behave,” but out of fear or calculation. (If I don’t clean up, I won’t be able to watch TV. If I do my homework, I’ll get a treat.) What they don’t learn is to make their own decisions based on their needs AND the needs of others. They don’t learn empathy and problem-solving skills. Most importantly, as our children grow, their power grows too. By the time they are teenagers, they’ll lie, conceal what they are doing from us, and fight us.
People often believe that the opposite of authoritarian parenting is permissive: if you’re not in charge, then your children must be. To surrender control must mean spoiling our children, surrendering to chaos, and threatening the well-being and future of our children. And yet, these are not our only two choices — to control our children or let them control us. Instead, we can choose to partner up, to share power. This alternative focuses on building trust and connection with our children. Instead of rewards and consequences, we try to develop a relationship of mutual respect and mutual caring for each other’s needs. It’s taking the long view of parenting. When we force our children to behave the way we want, we also give them only two choices: to submit or to rebel. If we don’t force them, they might not always make the choices we would want them to make, but they will probably not need to rebel either. The hope is also that our children will learn to do things for the “right” reason. The question is not, “Can I get my kid to go to bed at 8 pm tonight?” but “Can I support my child over the long term to CHOOSE for herself to act in ways that protect her health?” The hope in this example is that they will grow to be in touch with their OWN real needs for rest, and go to bed not because somebody told them they have to, but because they’re tired. This kind of parenting has many names: partnership, democratic, mindful, conscious, compassionate, attachment-based, Non-Violent Communication, etc. It’s a deep paradigm shift that has the power to transform our lives, the lives of our children, our culture, and ultimately our world.