Parenting with Peaceful Power
I have grappled with a name for Communication for Life’s parenting workshops that captures for me the heart of NVC with children. For now, “Peaceful Power” is the best way I can sum up the shift from ‘power over’ to ‘power with’ that NVC consciousness supports.
When you’re in the thick of bedtime battles, fighting siblings or teens who stay out all night, it can be challenging to see parenting as anything other than a battle of wills, a choice between raising a suppressed, obedient little lamb or a demanding, selfish tyrant who gets their own way all the time.
Because of how most of us have experienced power, we’ve come to think that it requires a ‘winner’ and a ‘loser’, and that there is something inherently manipulative or ‘bad’ about power.
What is power, and how can it be ‘peaceful’?
I am deeply influenced and inspired by Miki Kashtan, NVC trainer at Bay NVC in the US (thefearlessheart.org). She defines power simply as “the capacity to mobilize resources to attend to needs”. I enjoy this definition because as Miki says, it makes it clear that power is both necessary and neutral. She goes on to say, “This definition separates power from how it’s being used: despite our general use of language, power-over is not something we have; it’s something we do – it’s our choices about how we use the power we have.”
Power over – where we use our power to get our own way, without considering what others may want. Power with – where we use our power to find ways to meet everyone’s needs.
Clearly, as parents, we have more access to emotional and physical resources than children do. In our justification for efficiency, ease or just plain tiredness, it’s easy to overlook or use the power differential here just as it is in any other situation of blind privilege. So if we truly want to use our power peacefully, i.e. in a way that cares equally for everyone’s needs, it takes awareness and commitment.
“Long term goals for our children ought to be our touchstone, if only to keep us from being sucked into the quicksand of daily life with its constant temptation to do whatever it takes to get compliance.”
Alfie Kohn, Unconditional Parenting
Our goals and aspirations for our children and for how we want to parent can be easily revealed by two of Marshall Rosenberg’s questions: “how do you want your children to behave” and then “what do you want their reasons to be for behaving that way?”
If we stop at the first question, there could be an argument that punishments and rewards and other power over tactics ‘work’. However, it would be a rare parent who says they value instant, unquestioning compliance (as convenient as that is!) over long lasting relationships of trust, connection, harmony and mutual respect.
Parenting is a context in which I’m most passionate about sharing NVC. I am inspired to think of what a different world it would be if we were raising children who can relax into full trust that their needs matter as much as adults’, and their natural generosity and care for ALL life were not stomped out by ‘shoulds’, ‘have to’s’ and ‘deserving’.
I trust that these children would grow into “a new generation of people able to respond empathically, to act in line with their deepest values, or take a courageous stand despite fear of consequences” (Miki again 😊).
That’s a vision I want to contribute to. If you’re local and attracted by what is written here and would like to check it out further, you’re warmly invited to attend one of our parenting or educator workshops coming up.
One of the key distinctions you will learn on these courses is the difference between a request and a demand. Watch here to see Inbal Kashtan, NVC trainer from Bay NVC, elaborate.