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Parenting – how I would like to exercise authority

Making giant bubbles at Summerfest 2019

Spending nearly a week with 50 children of all ages at this year’s Summerfest brought up some thoughts around parenting different kinds of authority.

In the last blog post Shantigarbha mentioned the lake as a hazard and our process to find community agreements. We discussed the risks of the lake and how to protect the lives of the children. Mainly adults were involved in this discussion. On reflection, we would have liked to have included the children more and let their voices be heard. 

I could imagine being included would give them a sense of significance, to be seen, to be heard and to give them a chance to be creative in finding solutions. Whether it was resolving a conflict or contributing ideas for the day’s agenda. Talking together gives a sense of belonging to the whole community and increases the willingness to stick to commitments. It’s a way to practise ‘power with’ instead of ‘power over’.

Before coming to an agreement that parents would take responsibility for their children at all times, we heard different perspectives on how we could take care, as parents and as a community, for the children. Who is looking after the children, how much freedom is acceptable and do we let them do what they want? How much support is needed, how can the community support a parent who needs childcare so they can attend a workshop and be fully present?

What does NVC have to say about this? Recently I watched a video of Marshall Rosenberg on NVC and Parenting (Films 10 and 11 behind a pay wall here). He said that parenting boils down to the question, ‘What is authority and how do we use it?’ We need clarity on how we want to exercise authority. In his mind there are two concepts:

  1. Authority as a controller, by punishment and reward.
  2. Authority as a servant, by providing the knowledge/skills you have. 

As a ‘controller’ we have the tendency to assign labels, for instance, ‘You are a child.’ Labelling has to do with how we think about others and it risks de-humanising people. Punishment, reward, compliments and moralistic/imposing judgements are likely to have the same effect.

Rosenberg suggests that we see children as humans, without labelling. We need to be aware of our motivations when we speak to them and the energy in our tone and presence. If we try to manipulate them or use NVC to get want we want, there is likely to be a cost for it in terms of loss of trust and connection.

In real emergencies, we may find ourselves using force in a protective way. However, it’s important that we don’t use force to punish: the purpose is to protect the person’s safety, our values and ourselves. If we use force in a punitive way, the child will learn that it’s okay to use force against another person, if we think that we’re right. And who doesn’t think that they are right?

It all resonates with me because I have painful memories of my own childhood when my father said, ‘You are only a child. Why should I take your views into consideration?’ In my memory, my needs didn’t matter. With my own children, I wanted to do things differently. I remember people saying to me, ‘You treat your children as equals – no wonder that you have problems because they do want they want. They don’t obey.’

We all have our social conditioning. There is more to explore and to learn in the future about being an authority as a servant.

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