The Dynamics of Power and Children’s Right to Self-Determination

This has been a very challenging week for our family. It began when I finally admitted to myself  that, despite our best intentions, despite using consensus for big decisions, ours was still not an equal family in terms of  power and control:  we, the adults, had all the power and the children had none.  I explained to my husband that the children were very aware of this power imbalance (as all oppressed people are) and that this explained their continued resistance to certain things (namely, said oppression!)  I explained that we needed to honour our children and return to them their right to self-determination, their right to make their own decisions, good or bad.  No more rules.  No more imposing our will overtly or subtly.

I started the ball rolling with a simple question for Jasmine. I asked her if she knew the meaning of the word “power”.  Sure enough, she had a very clear understanding of its meaning: “You mean like when you tell me it’s bedtime and I have to go to bed?  And like when you expect me to do chores and I can’t say ‘no’ even if I don’t feel like doing them?”  We discussed things a little further, then I asked Jasmine how she would feel if we were to ‘level’ the balance of power.  To clarify, Jasmine asked me, “So I get to decide what I want to do about everything?”  I tried then to get in a few words about the responsibility that goes along with autonomy, and the need to think about the impact of one’s decisions on other people. This, of course, fell on deaf ears. I had already lost her to ecstatic contemplation of a delightful future of saying “NO” to her evil oppressors, Mom & Dad.

Needless to say, the week was an interesting one.  Jasmine stayed up to 10:00 p.m. reading in bed the first three nights and absolutely NO chores were done as she enjoyed exercising her right to self-determination.  We rarely went outside and when we did, Jasmine went out in summer dresses underneath her snowsuit.  Jasmine also reprimanded me a couple of times when I fell back into old habits and tried to offer her ‘limited choice’. In her words: “Mom, you just offered me choices!” (She knew there hadn’t been an option to ‘opt out’).

Don’t think this was an easy time for the adults; it wasn’t. Even though Jasmine reacted as I had expected, I still found her behaviour very difficult to handle graciously.  I had to be careful not to use my anger at her self-absorption to manipulate her into doing things she didn’t want to do.  I tried to carefully and neutrally let her know the impact of her decisions on the people around her and the importance of balancing her needs and desires with the needs and desires of the people in her life.  Some days I was more successful than others.

But we made it through the week and things are beginning to normalize.  Jasmine certainly knows she can say “no” to anything but she is also discovering the joy of saying “yes”.  Prior to thinking about power dynamics, I didn’t realize that, in unbendingly expecting things of my children, I was also robbing them of the joy that comes with making a “good” decision on their own, and the self-worth that goes hand-in-hand with this.  I know we have rough days ahead as I stumble and struggle through learning how to parent in a manner that is counter to both how I was raised and to parenting norms in our society.  In my gut, however, I know that I am on the right path, that our societal norms are skewed, and that we must honour our children’s right to self-determination.  It is the pathway to wisdom, at least for myself and my partner, and hopefully also for my children.

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2 Comments

  1. Smashu said,

    February 25, 2012 at 4:01 pm

    A great book in the workings I see….liked this very much! Look forward to following the story and sounds like its time for another interview ;@

  2. April 27, 2012 at 6:31 am

    […] I refrain from imposing my will on my children, I’ve also been forced to acknowledge that the ‘normalization’ I witnessed after I first began to ‘allow’ Jasmine to make her o… was only her mistrust of the situation. I think that, on a very fundamental level, she didn’t […]


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