November 5, 2019
by Dr. Louise Hart, CPS Partnership Community
“When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.” —Jimi Hendrix
Power comes from the Latin word, potere, meaning “to be able.” Everyone needs to be able, to be capable, to have a sense of personal power. For better or worse, the patterns of power by which people live, and that children copy, shape their lives.
Early on, adults have total responsibility and total power over their children’s lives. Helpless babies are completely dependent on adults for safety, love, and connection. As they grow and develop, we support their inner strength and self-confidence. We empower them as we celebrate their first words, their first steps. “Me do it,” toddlers insist. We offer them choices and encourage smart decisions. Healthy parenting is nothing if not a process of empowering our children.
We empower them by listening, being compassionate, and setting a moral compass, thus building character.
As parents, we are the world to our kids! They want to be like us—or the opposite, depending on how well we do by them. They love us totally and thrive on our nurturing and protection. As parents, our highest calling is to put them on a positive trajectory toward healthy adult lives. We can raise them so they don’t have to recover from their childhood.
Power and Responsibility
As Spiderman says, along with power comes responsibility. It is our job to be there for our kids, to do no harm, and both to teach them and live by the Golden Rule. We have the responsibility to nurture and help all the children in our lives grow, to protect and keep them safe. Doing a good job is your best investment in their future—as well as yours. What goes around comes around. We can become the parents we wish we’d had, the parents we want to be. I did, and so can you. The payoff will be a lifelong loving connection with those closest to your heart.
Cultural Myths: Unlearning Erroneous Beliefs
Growing up, we heard: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” It gave us strength, but we knew it was a lie.
Growing up, we heard: “Boys will be boys,” or “Kids will be kids.” If we believe that, we let them get away with unacceptable behaviors—instead of holding them accountable and teaching them the right way.
Growing up, we heard “Might makes right,” and “Be a man, tough it out.” These messages teach people to use force, and suppress emotions. In other words, actions—including violence—are justified to gain power over and dominate others. This thinking undergirds the build-up of weapons of war.
Win-Lose Families: The Authoritarian (Autocratic) Power-Over Leadership Style
The domination/submission dynamic is an underlying cause of unbalanced relationships in which one person “wins” at the other’s expense. People confuse strength with over-powering others. When parents “win” battles with their children, they may get short-term results, but learning to share power in the family is the long game.
Win-lose values are based on control, oppression, force, cruelty and a high degree of fear. Our society, and our mindsets have been shaped with these negative cultural concepts. Threats and violence are normalized—“get your ass over here,” “suck it up,” “shape up or ship out”—and have been exported around the globe.
Abuse is widespread. Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are common. Children who are raised with yelling, threatening, hitting, and shaming believe it is normal. Sadly, they are likely to repeat these patterns with their own children and thus continue the pattern.
The Good News: Instead of wounding our children, we can heal ourselves. Instead of repeating the mistakes of our parents, we can learn from them and do better. Instead of overpowering our kids, we can share power with them. It works.
When children are treated respectfully, with love, connection, safety, and caring values, it breaks the cycle of domestic abuse and promotes healthy families and well being, now and for future generations. A Win-Win Partnership Style brings out the best in adults and kids alike.
“Leaving dominator traditions behind is essential if we are to have foundations for a more equitable, peaceful, and caring partnership world”. —Riane Eisler
Win-Win Families: The Authoritative/Democratic/ Power-With Leadership Style
Children are fragile. Nurturing and protection are essential to survive and thrive. It is the responsibility of parents to be there for them, to fill their basic human needs, to do no harm—and to give them strength. The power-sharing leadership style, based on new relationship skills, is the building block for healthy, happy, resilient families.
When parents are partners with each other, they model partnership to their children. Empowering children requires simple skills any parent can learn, like listening with respect, and offering choices. Play and humor relax everyone. Pro-social caring values of safety, trust, respect, protection and cooperation bring out the best in everyone. When families aren’t in competition, no one has to lose. In fact, with safe family relationships, families are a continual source of strength and renewal.
At the cultural level, this revolutionary partnership model can prevent child abuse, date rape, domestic violence, hate crimes, and war. A basic building block of a democratic society, positive parenting—partnership parenting—can transform our lives, our relationships, and our very society.
“In partnership systems, women can be assertive without being ‘ball-busters’ and men can be caring without being ‘unmanly’.” —Riane Eisler
The Power of Assertiveness
To have successful, win-win relationships, people need skills to ask for what they want, and skills to say “no” to what they do not want. They need to set healthy boundaries for what is acceptable and what is not. And they need to know how to really listen, understand, and respond with empathy. Assertive communication is effective communication.
Assertiveness skills give men and women, boys and girls a common language and interaction style. Assertiveness skills lead to an inner restructuring that can set people on a positive trajectory that will benefit everyone throughout their lives.
The international best-selling children’s book, The Mouse, the Monster and Me: Assertiveness for Young People by Pat Palmer, describes the three basic communication styles—Passive, Aggressive, and Assertive—using a clever metaphor. “When you use mouse or monster ways to get what you want,” writes Dr. Pat Palmer, “you feel bad, and so does everyone else around you.”
The Assertive “Me” is about asking for what you need, saying “no” to what you don’t want, and setting personal boundaries. “Being assertive means you are letting yourself and others know what you want, not in a pushy way like monsters do, or a scared way like mice do, but in an honest way by just being YOU,” writes Palmer. It’s best to learn these skills together with your children and/or partner, so you are on the same page and can support each other.
Learning these skills, aggressive kids (and adults) can get their needs met without getting mad, shouting, hitting, having a tantrum…. Passive kids can find their voice and ask instead of hinting, pouting, whining, crying…. When youngsters and grown-ups learn and practice these nonviolent interaction tools, they are on track for healthy win-win relationships.
“Pat Palmer has the gift of speaking to and for children. In a time when children are bombarded on all sides by destructive media messages, her books help children understand the value of kindness and caring, including kindness and caring for oneself.” —Riane Eisler
At the heart of personal power is the knowledge that you have choices, that you are in charge of your life, and that you have the ultimate responsibility for how you live it. As parents, that is also the goal for our grown-up children.
Children who are raised with positive relationship skills of respect, empathy and acceptance, and who have their basic needs met enjoy a sense of belonging, well being, and personal power.
With personal power, we have rights and responsibilities, and can find our voices. Speaking our truth—in a way that respects others as well—helps us work things out with words and negotiation, instead of fists or bombs. At all levels, we can move from unintended consequences to cascading benefits of peace and well being. As we change our family patterns, we change our lives.
Dr. Louise Hart is the author of The Winning Family: Increasing Self-Esteem in Your Children and Yourself, On the Wings of Self-Esteem, and The Bullying Antidote with her daughter Kristen Caven. Visit the Zorgos Reader for more on how positive parenting skills can curb bullying. Louise teaches online classes on Positive Parenting; see Uplift Programs.
Contact Louise: firstname.lastname@example.org