Control and freedom. We all want both. We like to feel some sense of power and authority and we definitely want the feeling that nobody has power or authority over us – freedom. These apparently contradictory ideas are actually one. What we all really want, the true control we want to yield, is the power over ourselves – to be able to direct our time and our lives and to be able to pursue what is most meaningful to us without interference from others. What we want is to control our own freedom.
And parenting is the place where our misguided attempts to control others (instead of our own lives) plays out the most.
If we sit quietly with our own frustration and anger and disappointment that we are directing towards our children and their behaviour; If we truly allow these feelings to surface without attack; If we go deeply into the pain underlying them, what we find is that our futile attempts to control our children always come from our own unresolved issues.
Children pulse with their own life-force, with their own goals and dreams and desires. Children, too, have the innate desire to control their own freedom.
But when we, the adults, are not living authentic lives then we feel the need to squash the freedom we see in them. We need to make them conform to the same societal expectations that killed our inner joy, to let go of childish fantasies and ‘grow up into the real world’. We create all sorts of control mechanisms – punishments, shaming, coercion, rewards and the giving or withholding of approval – and then agree on these as a society to justify our own sense of disillusionment with how our lives have panned out.
We believe that our underlying motivation is pure: That we want our children to grow up and fit into society and be liked and acceptable. What we don’t realize is that the very techniques that we use to entice our children into conformity are the same things that will initiate their rebellion. Nobody can suppress their inner authenticity for long periods of time.
Teenage rebellion is absolutely essential in a society that manipulates and coerces children into being something they are not; And is totally absent in communities that allow children freedom.
What looks like successful control in childhood – a well-behaved, obedient child – is the perfect fertile soil for that teen rebellion.
Control can never be an external factor. True control must always come from within. It must arise from living a life where we are true to ourselves and also allow others to be true to themselves. Children (and adults) who are internally free and happy and living on purpose never put obstacles the paths of others.
It is fear that lies behind all other-control. And what we fear as parents is that our children will become unruly, unlikable delinquents. And our fear converts into control, which converts into rebellion, and we unwittingly create the very thing we are afraid of.
Let your children be.
But first, let yourself be. Take some time as you head into this new year to assess your life. Are you doing what you really want to do? Is your life meaningful and joyous and filled with engaging challenges? Are you free, or have you succumbed to the power of some authority? Do you wake in the morning excited to see what the day brings?
There is a lot we can learn from our children if we stop trying to make them like us and instead we see if we could possibly be more like them.
Start controlling your own life and your own freedom and you will see that letting go of control in terms of your children is not something you need to do, but something that will come naturally as you live a more authentic life. Sow the seeds of freedom in your own life and you will stop sowing the seeds of rebellion in theirs.