Inner Authority vs. Outer Authority
One of the side effects of a controlling parenting paradigm is the substitution of a child’s inner authority for the authority of others. As children we learn that we must look outside of ourselves for permission to live our daily lives. We have little control over the decisions in our lives. Parents choose children’s clothes, what they eat, what time they go to bed, what time they wake up, how they should speak and behave. Parents are even encouraged to tell children how they should feel in particular circumstances, whether it is “don’t be afraid,” “stop crying,” “stop being sad,” or “you should be happy.”
When we go to school, teachers replace parents. We become dependent on parents, teachers, and others outside of ourselves to tell us if we are smart, or attractive, or good enough. Throughout our childhood, we are encouraged to disconnect from our inner authority, especially when it is in conflict with mainstream outer authority.
The further we disconnect ourselves from our inner authority, the less we know ourselves. We feel discontent and unhappy. We spend our adult lives searching for who we really are. If we become parents and remain disconnected, we are more likely to perpetuate the same experiences for our children.
Losing and Regaining Inner Authority
For the first five years of the first child in my life, I practiced parenting that respected parts of her inner authority, but disregarded others. As a child, I wanted her to remain connected to her emotional authority and I worked hard as a parent to acknowledge the range of her feelings, even when it was uncomfortable for me.
However, I was not respectful of many of her other areas of inner authority. I began to recognize the harm of the parenting style I was socialized to believe was right.
When I began to let go of food control, she and I worked together with food issues. I had to facilitate her process of unlearning the idea that I was the one who knew what was right for her.
I had controlled her food so extensively that her aunt told me of a time when she took her to her grandmother’s house. Her grandmother had goldfish crackers. Her aunt offered to get her some and asked her how many she wanted. She lacked any ability to make these decisions for herself and became so overwhelmed and frustrated she sat in the kitchen corner and cried because I was not there to tell her how many she could have. She was four at the time. I had completely stripped her of her inner authority when it came to making decisions about food.
Overcoming Our Own Socialization
I had to first recognize the way I had been socialized. I then needed to reinforce the message that she knew her body best. We talked about listening to our bodies and trusting our bodies. We talked about how what was right for one person, was not necessarily right for another. In fact, I came right out and told her that I was wrong in coercing her to eat or in not allowing her to eat certain things. This same process was repeated when it came to TV and other media and his desire to buy certain kinds of toys.
Because of my own disconnection, I have spent several years working on regaining trust in myself. Just as I needed to facilitate her process of trusting herself in those areas in which I had not respected her, I am working with myself to do the same. I have many years of socialization to unlearn.
I still have a long way to go in learning to listen to my inner authority and being comfortable with it. She has bounced back much more quickly and often acts as my guide through her example. It is not always a smooth process for me. My socialization as a child and parent is difficult to overcome at times. In particular when there are conflicting needs, I can find myself frustrated and angry about the strength of both children’s personal power and authority.
A parenting paradigm that creates respectful relationships between children and adults, gives both the adult and child room to know and understand their inner authority. If we operate from this place of knowing ourselves and responding from this place, we become less threatened when those around us do the same. We can be more comfortable with the children in our lives coming from this place of inner power and strength.