Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves (Part 2): Control, Autonomy, Respect

brushing teeth, because HE wanted to

brushing teeth, because HE wanted to

I’d like to think that I have a lot of respect for Potamus, even though he is a tiny little human. I give him a lot of space to roam and come back to me. I genuinely look at him as a very small person with needs, feelings, and wishes of his own. But, in Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves, I was challenged by this notion of control, and how it might manifest in the way of cooperation. Naomi Aldort’s premise is that children need unconditional love, and because they crave it, they might give in to areas that their parent are trying to control so that they feel like they’re loved…even though she asserts that “giving up their will is the cause of most of the difficulties with children.”

So, it made me wonder…do you sometimes think:

How can I get her to do chores, be quiet, stop the tantrum, eat her food, etc., reflect a wish to control the child. IT is about ‘making’ the child do what the parent wants; the child has to give up what she wants, which is giving up on herself.

Whoa, right? Guilty as charged. Though when I read that I thought to myself, “big whoop, we all have to do things we don’t want to do.” But do you remember that feeling? When you’re doing XYZ and then you havetostoprightthisminute because someone arbitrarily (in your mind) tells you to? Or, if you had a family member who only expressed love to you when you behaved in a certain way, or got good grades, did you wonder, deep down, whether they really loved the real you? I certainly have!

I think this is the one that I’m going to have to mull over the longest. The book suggests offering chances for children, even young toddlers, to engage with, even asking for help…but with the freedom for the child to choose yes to help or no to not, just like we’d do with adults. The part of me that listens to Mother Culture says “no no no, adults are in charge, they are big and can ask for requests and to expect it to be done.” The still, quiet part of me, knows that even when I was small I had opinions and wanted to do things myself and not be asked or badgered into doing them. Or, if Boof came home, and because he is physically bigger than me, asked me to do something where I felt I would be harmed or unloved if I said no. That’s not really cooperation, that is control. If I notice that Boof is folding laundry and I want to join him, then I am freely entering into that experience. If he asks, and I say no, and it is just as loving, then I am truly free. So, why should a different set of rules apply to children?

In what ways do I try to control others, namely Potamus? When I say things like “lets go outside” and then pick him up without his choice to freely follow me, I guess, would be one way. Or putting food on his plate and expecting him to eat it (though this is something I try not to do). In fact, in a way, lately, we’ve been trying to help Potamus communicate his needs/desires about food, by picking him up and walking him around the kitchen to point to what he wants. While this won’t be something we can do forever, and I certainly am not excited about the prospect of making different meals each night or catering to my kid’s every whim. Of course, that takes it to an extreme, but I notice, the story in my head, about being controlled BY my child…and that in order to combat that I need to control HIM. Whoa, that’s a little tidbit of insight from my brain!

Thoughts on control/autonomy/respect?


  1. Ahhhh I really struggle with this one. On one hand, I don’t want to ‘force’ Vesper to do anything, even under the banner of ‘we all have to do things we don’t want to sometimes.’ Though that is true, I am trying to teach her cooperation, agency and kindness. However, there are times when we do HAVE to do things. We have to leave the house. Go to an appointment. Wear shoes in winter. Etc. etc etc. At these times I try to validate her ‘I know you don’t WANT to do x, but in order to play/eat lunch/get home we really have to.’ I fully know she probably can understand the if…then part of that explanation, but I do know she picks up parts of it and at least I am talking to her and not yanking her saying ‘you do what I say.’ No idea how the perfect mom would strike the balance here, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have the patience for her strategy anyway. 😉

    • Yeah, I think the thing I really took away from the book was unconditional love and showing it in ways that Potamus hears, examining my own storyline, and then really remembering to model things. So, like you said about kindness…if we are kind people, modeling kindness, I think our children will want to emulate us. And forcing kindness is hard, though I think holding that tension about teaching kindness (by saying here is the toy, and we get to share) or whatnot is really important. Like, my parents taught me ‘table manners’ and my friends parents didn’t. In college her eating habits were…atrocious. She clearly didn’t pick up the subtle ‘we all do this this way’ message and could have probably benefited from a verbal instruction on how things are done. 🙂

  2. I don’t know. I know my 14 month old regularly controls me, but I don’t look at it as bad. I don’t define it as bad, although others around me might. She has a limited way to communicate, so when she cries to do something, or becomes floppy baby to get out of doing something, I relent. She’s really good at asserting her own needs, so I don’t trip out about “controlling” her. Maybe when she’s older, or those terrible two’s come rolling around…

    • Thanks! Yeah, I definitely think Potamus tries to control the situation, and for the most part I just go with the flow…but there are some things that are just non-negotiable and I think he’s testing boundaries. I think I’ve been examining, more, my ‘need’ for him to do things (like when I’m out in public, or because I’m bored, or because I think I’ll get judged for it)…examining my own storyline a lot more, and validating emotions without labelling them or trying to give him a storyline about them. But, just like ‘attachment parenting,’ I think the most important thing for me is making sure I’m just authentically doing things, but not holding on to them because I think that they are the right way…listening to the situation and what actually needs to happen.

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