by Julie de Azevedo Hanks, PhD, LCSW, CPS Partnership Leader
If every child grew up in a home where partnership was practiced, the world would be transformed. That is my vision, and I’m on a mission to help families develop partnership patterns and shed the shackles of domination that have formed rigid family roles.
I want all people to see themselves as important caregivers in the lives of others, as creators of their lives, and as crucial leaders in the larger world. I want children to feel connected to themselves and others, to value relationships above status, and to respond to the suffering of others with compassion.
In my clinical therapy practice, I’ve worked with families who fall all along the dominator/ partnership continuum. Here are a few parenting patterns I’ve noticed and some suggestions for how we can move toward partnership parenting:
1) Move from Control to Connection
In dominator style families, the parent’s goal is to control children’s behavior and to force them to follow the expectations through threats. Often, parents will bring in their child for mental health therapy and label their child sick because they can’t control their child. While it’s the job of the parents to help the child manage her/ his behavior, it is not their job to control.
In therapy, I help parents focus on the quality of connection between family members — on the relationships. I help them see that the relationship with their child is going to do more to inspire good behavior than force ever will. When emotional connection is felt in infancy and childhood , we learn that the world is safe, that other people will be there for us, and that we are worthy of love.
2) Move from Competing to Caring
I’ve worked with families where affection and approval are scarce and must be earned by good behavior. Children in these dominator style relationship often compete for the approval of parents who withhold love as a form of power over the children. Parents may also compare children to each other with one as the “smarter one,” the “prettier one,” or the “athletic one.”
I try to help these families learn that love is abundant and that there is enough approval for everyone. Teaching that comparing their children to each other may inspire short-term change, but will have negative long-term consequences is a frequent theme. In partnership families, caring responses can be counted on.
3) Move from Criticism to Compassion
Ranking of family members creeps in to dominator style family relationships through the use of criticism and shame. I’ve seen mistakes and missteps, like poor grades or not making the team, responded to in critical ways that threaten the self-worth of the child.
A healthier response to mistakes is to respond with empathy and compassion. In partnership families, failure is seen as a growth opportunity and responded to with support and love.
4) Move from Conformity to Creativity
I’ve often seen conformity used as a control tactic in dominator style parents. “Conform to our rules, or you will be punished,” is an unspoken rule. A goal of the dominator families is to look good and not let others see your vulnerability.
Partnership families, in contrast, allow for individuals to create their own lives, to respond to challenges differently, and to have differing opinions. Individual uniqueness is celebrated and seen as an asset to the entire family.
As we move away from dominator styles of family life, we can change not only our family, we can change the world.
Bringing Partnership Home: A Model of Family Transformation, by Julie Hanks, PhD., at The Interdisciplinary Journal of Partnership Studies (IJPS), Vol. 2 No. 1, Spring 2015.