Power and Powerlessness: Children as Manipulators, Parents as Victims

As a child and teenager, I remember feeling a sense of powerlessness that comes from being part of a society that views children as less than full human beings.

When I wanted to do what I saw as big things or had important thoughts and feelings, they were not taken seriously or I was told that I was “cute.”

I’ve found this to be the experience of many adults who remember feelings of disempowerment and I see it in children today as an adult.

We come into the world as babies full of our own power.

As we use this power to speak our truths, we learn that adults can be very uncomfortable with the kind of radical honesty that comes naturally to children. When children make adults uncomfortable, adults often use their power to quiet children in some way or another.

We learn to diminish ourselves in order to accepted and loved by the adults around us. We learn to become smaller and give up our power as a way to create some kind of safety.

We also learn as children that those who are given power in our society, adults in this particular situation, use that power to silence those who make them uncomfortable.

We grow up and in turn become parents who are uncomfortable when children around us begin to use their personal power to get their needs met. Our culture labels children (and even babies) as manipulative.

We cast ourselves, the adults, as victims of children’s manipulations. If we haven’t healed from these past painful experiences of feeling diminished and disempowered, we can be triggered by children who speak their truth.

The powerless (children) become the powerful and we become the victims of these “powerful creatures.”

I, too, have fallen into the victim status as a parent. I have to work hard, particularly when I am under stress, to not feel a sense of powerlessness in living with the powerful will of the children in my life. I know their struggle to not feel powerless is even greater in the face of my strong will.

I was talking with another parent about this sense of powerlessness and was able to trace it back to my own, fairly typical and dysfunctional, childhood. I was describing a time when as a little girl I felt powerless to change the destructive and harmful behavior of my parents.

My anger, fear and rage were fierce in that moment, and yet they did not change how my parents behaved. From experiencing those moments as a child, it can be easy to fall back into a sense of powerlessness. It can be easier to just stay in the feelings of being a victim to children because we have felt like victims in our own childhoods.

We can accept the socialization we have received as truth (children are powerful manipulators) or we can challenge it to look at who in our culture is given the power to control others (adults and parents).

Because of our status as adults, we have even more reason to look at how we use power with the children in our lives. The power dynamics inherent in the adult-child relationship that are reinforced in our society can easily overwhelm children.

I was not one of those parents who clearly understood this power dynamic from the time Martel was born.

And there were also times when I did understand the power I had over Martel, but chose to use it anyway, in spite of the harm it might do to him.

As I have been in the process of liberating myself from what I learned throughout my life, I had to become conscious of how I use my power with Martel.

As always, the process is on-going. As the children in my life grow, I come up against new situations that might take me back to my own sense of powerlessness as a child.

I then need to face those situations, challenge my socialization, and look for a different way to be with the children in my life.

We can work to overcome what we learned as children.

We can heal from the past hurts we experienced.

We can realize that regaining our own power and being powerful as adults, doesn’t mean that we use that power over those who are less powerful.

When we can reconnect to our inner voice and our truths as human beings.

We can come into our own power in a way that empowers children in our relationships with them.

When we heal from our past hurts and choose not to recreate those with the children in our lives, we regain the power we lost in our childhoods.

And, we create a place of power for others.

A place where power strengthens our relationships and supports our true selves in those relationships.

A place where power is infused with love, honesty, and truth.

A place where power allows us to meet everyone’s needs.

This is the place of power that comes from the healing we need to do as parents.

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