DAD: C’mon, Sweetheart. Eat. You’ll be late for school.
DAD: If you don’t eat, I won’t let you go to school. (She’s always excited about going to school)
MAXINE: (Her face darkens—a warning that she’s about to cry)
DAD: (Doesn’t want her to cry—it would make things worse.) Ok, baby. You don’t like the food? What do you like to eat?
MAXINE: (Now scowling with lips pouted. Smugger now, thinking she’s getting the upper hand.) I don’t wanna eat!
DAD: If you don’t eat, you can’t go to school.
MAXINE: I don’t wanna eat! I just wanna go to school! (Dad pleads some more, Maxine shouts her refusal each time.)
DAD: (Irked by all the shouting, now uses his deep “I’m-the-boss” voice.) No. If you don’t eat, you….don’t….go…to….school!
MAXINE: (Face contorts and starts to wail loudly) Mmmmmm—waaaaaaah!
DAD: (Exasperated, faces the Nanny and, still in his deep, almost theatrical “I’m-the-boss” voice, says) Make her eat. (Then stands up to leave the table).
MAXINE: (Cries louder.) Waaaaaaaah!
What just happened is an example of a parent-child power struggle that ends in a disaster. The parent is frustrated and angry that the child is so hard-headed and refuses to understand. You would be surprised to know that the child feels exactly the same: frustrated and angry that the Dad couldn’t understand her. Both end up feeling powerless (the child crying, the parent frustrated for not managing the situation well).
At first glance, it seems funny and outrageous that a parent struggles for power with a child. The parent feels that, being the one with authority and power, he should be in control. Not being able to control the child’s behaviour drives home a lot of uncertainties and insecurities. Isn’t he a good father? Where did he go wrong? The parent feels insecure and threatened. So he stands his ground. After all, he knows better and this is all for the child’s own good.
The child’s point-of-view
The child, in turn, is also determined to stand her ground. She refuses to be bossed around. It’s not because she does not respect or love her parents, it’s just because she has her own free will too. Children are by nature self-cantered. And they have the “power” to satisfy this self-centeredness. Let us not forget that we, parents, made sure they feel that way with our love and affection. We make them feel secure and happy; it is just normal then that they would presume everything is all for/about them. If this is challenged, they get confused and/or will assert themselves.
This “power” the child wields clashes with the limitations, values and discipline set by the parents. This parent-child conflict is a natural part of growing (both for the parents and the child) as long as they are immediately resolved. Annabelle Balanzar in her “Conflicts, interrupted” article says, “Instead of trying to eradicate conflict all together (which would probably be impossible), you should instead focus on how to recognise its presence, and deal with it in the best way possible.”
Cracks in Relationships
Be wary of extended power struggles that could forever put a crack in your relationship with your child. If this power struggle goes unresolved over long periods of time, this could lead to both parties ceasing to communicate effectively, which could further lead to apathy, hatred, and even revenge. Always protect a loving and nurturing relationship with your child, first and foremost.
Never forget that parent-child power struggles are incidental exchanges as we instil discipline and values, not to establish who the boss is. While we claim that what we parents are doing are for the good for our children, the way we do them could be flawed. This is what Edecat Manila pointed out when he wrote “I Regret Spanking My Son.” More often than not, our motivations, and the paradigms we use in dealing with our children would also need re-examining.
Here are a few considerations that might be able to help you resolve that power struggle that has dragged on long enough:
• Are you a perfectionist type of parent? Are you so rigid you want things done exactly the way you want them to be? Remember that each child has a personality of his own and they necessarily aren’t like yours. Studies show that perfectionist parents are in constant emotional struggles with their children.
• Do you have realistic expectations? You don’t know how to make your son really like school enough to get him good grades. Why, the rest of the family have straight A’s. Many power struggles, (which could lead to a child feeling rebellious) arise from a child constantly being compared to his siblings. Each child has his own special traits and pace in learning. They don’t also necessarily manifest at a specified age.
• Do you want your child to be like you? You are a doctor, your father is a doctor, and your wife is a doctor, why doesn’t your child like medicine?
• Do you lack experience as a parent? Sad to say, not everyone have the same level of parenting knack. Sometimes, when a parent becomes desperate and feels threatened when the child disobeys or fights back, he resorts to power play. As someone wrote, babies come without the “owner’s manual,” it becomes important then that we continue to educate ourselves with good parenting literatures. Teohara Sarbasa’s “My Kids Are Driving Me Crazy!” and “How to Get Your Tyke to Listen to You,” and Susan Teo’s “Raising Children—What You Should Know,” are great reads for anyone who have parent-child power struggle concerns.
At the end of the day, you can’t make your child perfect, but you can make your relationship with your child perfect. When you have a very good relationship with your child, there is no need to play “who’s-the-boss-here?” game.
Do you have your share of parent-child struggles? How do you deal with them?