I came across this story today on facebook and I’ve been kind of a wreck ever since. I’m so sad and disgusted I don’t even know what to say. Actually, I can think of a few things…
I understand that not everyone can or is willing to Unschool. It’s a difficult idea to comprehend, and even harder to implement. Regardless of the schooling choices you make for your kids, or the rules you impose on them, respect should be implicit. Compulsory. Essential. Mandatory. I’m done pretending it’s every parents right to decide what’s best for their child. No, it’s fucking not your right to shame your child. It’s not your right to punish them, berate and humiliate. It’s not your right to strip them of their autonomy.
When you become a parent you are granted a position of honor. The incredible privilege of bearing witness as they become the person they are going to be. You are supposed to be a trusted ally to the children you bring into the world. You are tasked with preserving their spirit. Your job is to do no harm. If you have a top-down authority dynamic with your child, you are doing harm. Period. Not just if you are publicly humiliating them to the extremes we see on social media these days. Any control, manipulation, imposed consequences, etc. is harmful. Yes, all of it!
Children are born innocent. They deserve your respect and it’s your job to earn theirs, not the other way around. If you are an adult in this world, you have emotional baggage. You have problems that your child had no part in causing. If you weren’t raised free of control, you have been damaged. You might not even realize it, but it’s there. If you haven’t taken the time to examine all of that, then you are passing that on to your kids and it’s NOT OK.
As parents, we all have the choice right now to make a change. It’s never too late to seek healing for ourselves, and try to repair our relationships with our kids. I did just about everything wrong in the beginning. Somehow, despite my missteps, my son is 14 today and an incredible person. He is intelligent, hilarious, compassionate and talented. He is already a better man than I could have imagined he would be. I can say for absolute certain that if I hadn’t changed directions in my parenting, things would be so much worse. We have no teenage rebellion. No attitude problem, no slamming doors, no eye rolling, no animosity. We hug, laugh, play games, share our thoughts and feelings, ask each other for advice, help each other, trust each other, respect each other every. single. day. When there is anger or frustration it’s almost always because I am being triggered by something and am forgetting to parent the way I normally do. That’s right, most of our arguments are my fault!
Most teenagers will experience some form of angst. Even if you are parenting as mindfully and peacefully as possible, there is no way for your child to be happy 100 percent of the time. But you do have control over how much of that angst is caused by you and your assertion of power over them. If you are of the mind that teenagers are automatically difficult and that parenting them is inherently awful, you are dead wrong. If that’s how it is for you, it’s because YOU are choosing that. And before you argue that maybe I haven’t gotten to the hard part of teen parenting, I just spent five days with 700 families at the LIFE is Good Conference and I can promise you, it isn’t just me.
Every parent loves their kid. But love isn’t enough. Justifying control and punishment and shame and manipulation under the guise of love is bullshit and wrong and harmful. Love has to be accompanied by listening and hearing. Trusting and respecting. Freedom and partnership. Not the partnership that looks like “You do chores and I pay you allowance” or “I provide a roof over your head so you do what I tell you to”. I’m talking about partnership that looks like “I see this is important to you, I’m on your side, how can I help?” and “Hey- that isn’t a choice I would make and here’s why, but I trust you, how can I help?”.
It’s not enough to love your kids. You owe them more than that and you are capable of more than that. If you learn of an alternative and keep choosing control then you are complicit in harming your kid and you should be ashamed of yourself. If you brought a human into this world you are so fortunate to be their first line of defense and you should treat that position with the reverence it deserves. Spend your life trying to be worthy of it. Don’t squander it. Not only will your child grow into the outstanding person they were always meant to be, but you will also get to experience a beautiful bond and relationship with that person. You have no excuse!