Life as a Respectful Dance of Negotiation

I had another a-ha! moment the other day.  Well, more than an a-ha! moment, it was a revelation. 🙂

If you’ve read my earlier posts, you’ll see that I’ve embraced the truth that my children have the inherent right to be the authors of their own lives.   Removing the hierarchy in our family, acknowledging that my children have the right to make their own decisions, ‘leveling the playing field’ so to speak, has been an interesting journey for me.  My children embraced this new reality of course, happily emboldened with the new power to say ‘no’ to everything I asked them to do.  My husband and I, on the other hand, have really struggled with adjusting to our new paradigm.  If we could no longer threaten or intimidate our children into complying with what we wanted, how on earth were we going to influence them?!  (I know threaten and intimidate sound severe but take a moment to genuinely and honestly examine how you interact with and influence your children.  It’s enlightening.)

The revelation came at a dinner party.  A bunch of friends were over and all the children were running wild in my backyard.  A child came in to complain that one of the kids was being ‘too bossy’.  The child’s mother replied that among children there are no ‘bosses’, that no one makes the rules.  This interaction percolated through my system and I thought to myself how unfair it is to expect our children to adopt a social role of equality and respect when this is never modelled for them.  At home, at school, all they know is boss and subordinate.  And that’s when it hit me.  I realized why I had been struggling in our new, hierarchy-free home.  All I knew was boss and subordinate.  When I gave up the position of boss, I automatically took on the role of subordinate!   I had no idea how to assert myself respectfully.

So this is what I am learning to do: to assert myself and express my needs respectfully.  I’m giving up both the dictatorial and abusive language of the boss and the pleading language of the subordinate and I’m coming to realize that, when all parties are treated respectfully and as equals, life becomes an artful dance of mutuality and negotiation.

I know it might be difficult to imagine respectfully negotiating one’s needs with one’s children.  It is so ingrained in our society to put all our needs (and wants) ahead of those of our children.  But I can assure you that it does start to work over time and truly it is the only just and honourable way to interact with our children.   And what my children are learning  is so precious: to respectfully assert themselves; that life is a process of give and take; that it’s important to consider everyone when making decisions.  If we would like to see social change, a new paradigm of respectfulness and equality, we have to start in our own homes, so that when our children go out in the world, they have more than the roles of boss and subordinate to draw upon.