When my daughter was three, I found myself in a power struggle with her that scared me. We had gotten into a fight about god-knows-what, and at one point I was on the outside of her bedroom door holding it closed, and she was on the inside trying with all her might to pull it open. We were screaming at each other. I knew there was something terribly wrong. She had evoked something in me that I had to do something about.
I had always held as my parenting goal that my children would feel good about being with us, enjoy sitting at the dinner table and want to come home after moving away for college and beyond. How was I going to accomplish that when I was fighting with my three-year-old?
I knew that I had to learn how to stop reacting and help her manage her own anger so that we could both have our feelings without dumping them on each other. Hanging onto power that was mine only by virtue of being a grown-up did not feel right. What did feel right was treating my children as regular people, smaller and less experienced, but regular none-the-less. They always rose to the level of adults who talked to them normally and expected their intelligence.
It also seemed wrong to me to be entirely child-centered and lose myself in the process. After all, my needs were as important as their's. So a reasonable balance is what I began teaching when I became a parent educator and designed parenting classes.
I found that most of the parents I was teaching were trying hard to parent differently than they were parented, and were messing up because all they had to go on was how they were parented. This seems to have led us to being either overindulgent or dictatorial with our children, victims of knee-jerk reactions to our own pasts. Our kids don't know what we're doing, so they act out in ways that drive us crazy and turn us into screaming, arbitrary nut-cases.
Taming the anger or hoplessness of parents who are stuck in that reactive pattern became the subject of my interest. I had learned how to get out of it, but I was teaching parent education daily. How could I expect other parents to do the same? But then how could I not expect it? How could I not have enough respect for parents to know that we all want long-lasting and fulfilling relationships with our children? I just needed to find the way to teach it. I discovered that the answers lie within us, not in asking our children to submit to our power.