Do We Really Want to Control Our Children?

A Bold Question
It is my guess that the answer is not always clear in comparison to the question the title so blatantly asks. Many of us come from widely varying backgrounds, and the question of controlling our children has yet even more meanings for each of us individually. A mouthful of words? Yes.

This question is meant to pull at you a bit and make you think, so pardon the initial tone of what is written. I ask myself the same question to clarify my choices as a parent. In my experience, parental responsibility and the question of controlling our children are questions that deserve our inquiring attention. Is this really what it takes to parent effectively — control, regulation, authority? And if not, what do we do instead?

emotional facesFirst, let’s take a stroll down memory lane. Do you recall when you were a child? A little bit? I know some people sort of conveniently forget that phase of life, but if you check your research, it’s a profound period in one’s life. Can we get through unhappy times we experienced as children? Certainly. Is that always easy? Uh, no.

Okay, so you’re remembering what it is like to be little. What did it feel like when others tried to control you? Not so good. Can you honestly look back and say it made you a better person? Really?

As Naomi Adort asks in her book Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves, if you knew bottom line that your children would turn out okay, happy, and successful adults without shame, blame, control, and punishment, would you use it to parent them?

Is that not the reason parents feel they need to have some sort of upper hand with their children? To produce adults who can function in our society?

We All Think About It
I spoke with a friend recently. She is a very kind, caring mother and as we talked, the issue of her children understanding authority came up. She was feeling like she needed to be a source of authority for her children to understand what it was. She is not alone, many parents feel this way and many more will claim it is the only way to parent, teach, or relate to children. Even parents who don’t feel this way may see the tendency to control come up in their parenting experience.

Let’s Look At Authority
We all know the word: authority. Now for some definitions:

  • convincing force
  • person in command
  • an individual cited or appealed to as an expert
  • power to influence or command thought, opinion, or behavior

It is my guess that most can agree their idea of authority is one of or a combination of these ideas.

Certainly, we want to be able to influence our children’s behavior, especially when it comes to their safety and well-being. However, do we want to do it through force or command or because we are the expert? While we may be experts in the human experience, our children will likely testify to the fact that they are the experts in joy, creativity, and living life without worrying what others think!

It’s true … we could take some lessons from our children.

A Parent’s Role
Everyone has a definition of a parent’s role. These words will likely affirm or challenge that definition.

Adults are the masters of the human experience (or maybe not so much, but we keep plugging away). We’ve been around for awhile so we generally know how to operate in society without getting ourselves locked away or killed, and maybe we have even figured out how to prosper! Just the same, children are the masters of having and creating fun, living life with enthusiasm, and exploring their world.

Controlling our children will likely lead to one thing: rebellion at some point later in life, not to mention a less-than-it-could-be relationship with our children. We birthed these little beings — why not have as much fun as possible with them?!

What We Can Do
We can start by realizing where we are. By the way, these words are to pointedly draw awareness, not create guilt within the parent reading. I firmly believe parents are always doing the best they can in any given moment.

If you want a change in your relationship with your children, you can have it, and it does not have to include control, punishment, shame, or blame.

We can begin the journey by starting to think about the idea of not worrying what others think, especially when the said judgment tends to push us further down our own spirals of “bad” parenting. I know, I know — it can be difficult, but it’s a step. Think about what would change in your parent/child relationship if you took out the element of what others think. Does that lighten the load a bit?

What other people think is really not our concern. It is important to consider the feelings of others and respect one another. That is certainly true. However, in the case of guiding our children, it is not necessary to hold tightly to the belief that guiding involves shaming.

When one of my littles was a toddler, we were in an ice cream store and she got up onto the table. It took a moment to get her down as I was with my other children, and I could feel looks from my elders. When I brought her down, there was not a mention of the table and her on it. I scooped her up, enjoyed our ice treat, and went about our business. I addressed the issue, without the shaming and reprimand usually thought required in our society.

We really can all be appreciative of one another and realize that we’re in this together ~ we’re not as separate as we think. In moments we can’t be happy, we can begin to accept what is, and keep moving forward.

Inner Authority
Another way to work with feeling like we must be the authority or control agent is to help children cultivate their own inner authority. Children have an innate sense of right and wrong, helpful and harmful. This doesn’t mean they always know the difference or have the experience to do what’s helpful in the moment, but with attention to awareness they can learn to trust themselves and gravitate toward harmonious behavior.

Learning to trust our children and give them the room to choose actions that will help can take practice. Sometimes this can look like transitioning our authority from control into guidance. An example may be with a child who hits when frustrated. We can work through our own reactions and instead of reprimanding the child with a strong focus that points to how that is harmful, we can trustingly offer an alternative behavior that allows the child to connect: possibly a hug, high-five, or stretching his body to move some energy. This provides an opportunity for the child to tune into his innate sense of well-being while directing him to an appropriate behavior that will work in the environment. The parental authority is directed to what is positive and expected, rather than focused on shaming the child for what went wrong. The child’s inner authority is affirmed by offering an alternative while trusting strongly that the child will choose that action with proper support.

I admit the transition of working through our own actions, as well as repetition of focusing on the positive alternative behavior, take time and determination. From what I have gathered, parenting is all about time and determination, no matter how we choose to parent. So parenting in line with our values while releasing the need to control will yield promising results, one moment at a time.

How do you release the tendency to control children?

 

This article has been edited from a previously published version at HubPages.com.

About The Author: Amy

PresenceParents My NPN Posts

Amy Phoenix is a gentle yet direct mom of five, facilitator of Presence Parenting, a space to address the presence we bring to parenting, especially when feeling frustration, anger or rage and the author of Force Free Parenting, a book exploring the nature of force in adult-child relationships while providing viable alternatives.

6 Responses to Do We Really Want to Control Our Children?

  1. Heather Kelly  

    I don’t like to fully control them. I like to let them do what they are going to do, playing, running around the grocery store like hellions, I sometimes let them decide what they want to eat for lunch or dinner, or what they want to wear, even if my almost 3 year old daughter’s bows don’t match her outfit, who cares, etc.

    I try to let them play and do things, as long as they are following the rules and not hurting each other, damaging the house, jumping on the couch or off of the playhouse, things like that. As long as they follow our rules, which aren’t strict by any means, then they aren’t controlled much by us. We do expect them to respect each other and us, but we have to teach them what that means, as they are only almost 3 and 4 1/2, and even them lying, they don’t understand what lying is. It all has to be taught, and learned. They will understand in time the meanings of everything. But for now, they are kids, and we believe in letting them be kids, and not trying to control every second of their world. It’s too much work, and then I can’t be me. I don’t want to get lost in being “Mommy, the control freak.” I want to be Mommy, the one who helps heal ouchies, makes them good stuff to eat, brings them yummy snacks, but above all, the one who loved them enough to let go, and let them be themselves and try to figure things out on their own.

  2. Debbie

    Overall, I see some wisdom in what you wrote in your response to the article. I have one question are you saying that you let them run around the grocery store like hellions?

    • Amy  

      Hi Debbie,

      I am assuming you are addressing the first comment by Heather. I have to laugh because one person’s definition of a “hellion” may certainly be different than another.

      I appreciate allowing my children to be themselves while working together towards an experience of harmony and collaboration – we all get some semblance of our wants and needs being at the least recognized and most being actualized. In a large group (or even small) not everyone gets what they want all of the time, but they may find that they get what they need… and potentially an experience that can bring them to a new perspective in life.

  3. Safra

    I mostly agree, until it comes to hitting and biting. What do you feel about this issue?

  4. Amy  

    Safra, it is possible that the way I refer to “control” is different than many. I do get quite introspective about it, rooting out any tendencies to judge/blame/coerce, etc. from the inside out. I do feel it is important to stop harmful behavior such as hitting and biting. It is the approach that concerns me.

    Here are some additional pieces I have written or contributed to that discuss discipline. Maybe they will provide some insight.

    http://naturalparentsnetwork.com/gently-responding/
    http://naturalparentsnetwork.com/ways-to-discipline-a-child-part-1/
    http://naturalparentsnetwork.com/ways-to-discipline-a-child-part-2/

Leave a Comment

Send me an email when additional comments are made on this post.

All comments are subject to moderation, please see the comment policy for more information.