Shifting the traditional parenting paradigm
Our Clinical Lead Yasodha Samaranayake shares some thoughts on roles, power struggles and the traditional parent child relationship. She posits that a reinterpretation and a shift in these power dynamics has the potential to result in mutually respectful relationships with children in our care.
One of the biggest challenges for parents/caregivers in their roles is to address conflict in the face of an angry, aggressive, or a resistant child. Not only is it difficult to manage, but often, we feel that we are not getting it right, and struggle to gain an outcome that is beneficial for both parties.
We have all experienced as parents/caregivers, the knee-jerk reaction when threats and punishment are used as the go-to method of ‘disciplining’ children. While these traditional systems have been pulled apart in new research, and we now know better, the question remains – do we really do better? It is not often that we are able to break away from the hierarchical rigidity with layers of power imbalance in our families, where we tactfully condition our children to concede to the very autocratic systems that we once rebelled against in our own childhood and adolescence.
Seeking Identity through our Roles
From the time we are conceived, much of who we think we are is dictated by what we are – whether it is our gender, race, social class, sibling order, our skin colour, etc. By the time we turn 5 years, our caregivers have already, lovingly given us several labels – loving, pretty, handsome, clever, artistic, shy, good, bad, etc. Through generations we are conditioned to believe there is value in these terms and we develop a need to identify ourselves and our children with labels and roles, without which, we feel unable to relate in the world.
It is not habitual for us to wonder who we are, without our name, role, religion, culture and identity. Do we ever wonder if ‘who’ we are, is often misguided by ‘what’ we are? There is value in contemplating who we are, especially in our roles as a parent or a caregiver. I wonder if our unconscious attachment to our assigned or intended roles and external measures of worth, the ‘what’ as oppose to ‘who’, eventually result in passing judgement, rigidity and lack of flexibility towards our children and loved ones.
The power struggle
When we are yelling, screaming, disciplining or punishing our children, are we aware that this is a reflection and a projection of our inner being? What if the attachment to our roles allowed us a different way of being with our children? This would mean that we need to be able to accept ourselves, exactly as we are. This is fundamentally different from seeing ourselves primarily in a particular role, such as a mum or dad. This is not to say Roles are entirely unhelpful. They do play a part in our lives that is vital. However, it is imperative for us to be mindful of when this role is helpful and when it causes conflict within us and in our children’s lives. These roles can produce imbalances in energy as we become fixated on illusory expectations and ideologies of parenthood.
Parent-child relationships where the parent is perceived as dominating and more powerful than the child, and where the power struggle can bring about dysfunction and disconnect within the families, calls for a paradigm shift. Of course, making this paradigm shift requires us to acknowledge that our children are no less powerful than we are, and that they are complete and whole just the way they are.
What if we reinterpret the traditional parent child relationship – from the parent as the ‘all knowing’, need to be in control, need to fix – to one of an equal playing field, where we see the child with wonder and curiosity; and from whom we can learn? Can we adapt this point of view, especially at times when conflict arises? Very few of us know how to deal with conflict in a healthy manner without allowing our perceived roles – one of power and the other of being powerless – to shape our approach. We react to our children’s internal frustrations and aggression with the same fear we have when they make demands. Feeling the pressure, we resort to control. In turn, our children either become more aggressive or shut down.
Instead of staying focused on winning the argument, what if we stay focused on CONNECTING with our children. If we move away from this sense of superiority and fully embrace the commitment to having Unconditional Positive Regard for the child, can we empower both ourselves and our children to be in the presence of each other?
What we see as aggression in our children can be a defensive reaction towards us. For this reason, when we are not constantly lead by our ego and the need to control, and remain curious about what is happening for our children, we open and allow a space to reinterpret aggression, making it possible for ourselves and the child to interact with a state of mindfulness.
What awareness can we integrate into your daily life if we truly want to shift the internal and external conflict:
- Aggression is a form of self-defence
- Our children resist our attacking energy by attacking back
- Conflict is inevitable when two strong individuals are present
- Conflict is natural when loved ones live together
- Conflict can be healthy – depending on how we process it:
- It can open and opportunity for dialogue
- It can allow both sides to express their feelings
- It can help realign relationships
If we harness love and compassion for ourselves, the conflict, the demands, and the aggression may no longer feel personal and threatening. Instead, we would be open to seeing these expressions from our children as indications of trust, openness, authenticity, and courage. In turn, we receive and hold these interactions in a mutually respectful relationship. When we become more aware of the legacies of our conditioning, we can deconstruct the traditional paradigms of parenting and enter a parent–child relationship that allows each other to grow and thrive.
If you are interested in learning more about conscious parenting, please visit: https://drshefali.com/the-conscious-parent/
The Conscious Parent – Dr Shefali Tsabary, Ph.D
The Power of Showing Up – Dan Siegal and Tina Payne Bryson
Mental Health Social Worker
Australian Childhood Trauma Group