Transitioning from an unresourceful model of power in parenting

I used to tell my kids they HAD to do certain things. Then I immersed myself in Nonviolent Communication (NVC) and finally grasped how to apply the Aware Parenting philosophy I have been inspired by for so many years. Transitioning from an old model of parenting into a more respectful one is quite a challenge, though. Not only I am having to heal the wounds my own authoritarian upbringing, but my children as well are having to heal the damage they have received in their lives so far.

My daughter, who is 13, is doing an interesting process in this area. Marshall Rosenberg, the father of NVC, describes this process as the transition from emotional slavery to emotional liberation. Initially she was “a very good girl”, which in NVC terms means she typically gave up on her own needs to meet those of others, like most of us have been trained to do. The consequences of this attitude are a huge cost in self-esteem, empowerment, capacity to think independently from authority figures, internal motivation and connection to our life-purpose, among others.

As I committed myself to the principles of NVC, she quickly grasped that she did NOT HAVE TO do anything. Not even brushing her teeth. So we went through a second stage of what Rosenberg calls “the obnoxious stage”, where she refused to admit to caring what anyone else felt or needed, including herself sometimes! That was hard work for me as a mother. But I was committed: in her transition to emotional liberation, her need for self-determination was more important than her other needs. I knew it was temporary phase and I was clear that I wanted her to brush her teeth (or shower, or balance her screen time with other activities, or tidy up her stuff from the living room), because she VALUED those things, rather than because I nagged her to.

While she was going through this stage of saying ‘no’ to even things she actually wanted to do, just because I wanted them to happen as well, I was going through a parallel process: grieving. I grieved for the fact that I never had parents to listen to me so deeply and honour my preferences. I grieved for the realisation that, so far, she had been doing what I asked her to, not because of its intrinsic value, but because I somehow managed to push her into it. And I grieved while deconstructing an old victim trick my mum told me of equating “others doing something for me” to a demonstration of their love for me. That took a lot of tears; and I mean lots.

As we both emerge from our ring of fire, I have started to see the signs of our third stage of emotional liberation. When she says ‘no’ to a request, I either become curious about what other needs she is meeting with her choice or, if I feel pain, I can hold it without drowning in it. That means that I can also hear requests like ‘let’s turn it into a game!’ without cringing. So when she last was due for a shower, I went to her while she was immersed in You Tube videos and knelt in front of her. When she looked up, I said ‘My lady, would you like to run a bath for you, with scented oils and candle light?’ She smiled and nodded vigorously. I run the bath and arranged the soaps, hair brush and candles beautifully around it. She went in with delight, and we both enjoyed some connecting time while I was untangling her hair.

Bingo.

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