Parenting and Empowerment: Raising a person

The other day, I gave Q a huge hug and said “Are you my boy?”  His response was “No, Mommy. I’m Q!”  I paused in that moment and let it sink in. The simplicity of his assertion of self struck me. I’m not yours, mommy. I’m mine. Of course he was right. Actually, I couldn’t have said it better myself.

It’s hard to let go of the notion that he’s mine.  That he is as much his own person as I am mine. Until he was six months old, I thought of him as an extension of me. Everything that sustained him came from me. It was strange and wonderful that his little body was of my making. It awed me that all of him could have come from a part of me.

But he was never really mine. He was always his.

I am his mother, but can’t claim him. I can teach him, protect him, guide him, and love him. With that, I must respect his needs, his desires and his preferences as much I expect him to respect mine.

The dynamic between adults and children is unique because every adult was once a child. There are expectations placed on children and young people to respect their elders. But, do we respect them? Are they free to expect from us what we expect of them?

In relatively recent former life, I worked with youth. As part of that, I facilitated trainings for adults on how to work with youth within a youth empowerment model: how to guide instead of direct and how to support instead of dictate.

When we did these trainings, my colleagues and I found that those who had the most difficulty with that approach to working with youth were parents. They resisted. Now, I understand why.

The idea that was most difficult to come to terms with was called adultism.

The essence of adultism is disrespect of the young. Our society, for the most part, considers young people to be less important than and inferior to adults. It does not take young people seriously and does not include them as decision makers in the broader life of their communities.

I think that as much as we don’t want it admit it exists, it does. We treat children differently and we perceive their value differently. Being childish or juvenile is considered bad and it is not something that adults want emulate. Why is that? What is so wrong with being like a child?

It is difficult to parent within a youth empowerment model. To guide without directing and dictating is near impossible. In fact, I tell Q on an on-going basis what to do and what not to do – for his safety, for his growth, and for my sanity. He needs to learn to pick up after himself, that he can’t watch TV all day, and that it’s nice to say please and thank you. I am responsible for raising him and encouraging him to be a well-rounded person. As a result, I make a lot of decisions for him. Most.

As he gets older and develops, he will make more decisions for himself. For now he decides, to a large extent, what he wears, what he eats, and how he spends his free time.

His simple claim to himself was a stark reminder that I have to be present in my parenting.

In that moment, the mirror that Bell describes in Understanding Adultism was held in front of my face, posing the questions:

“Would I treat an adult this way?”
“Would I talk to an adult in this tone of voice?”
“Would I grab this out of an adult’s hand?”
“Would I make this decision for an adult?”
“Would I have this expectation for an adult?”
“Would I limit an adult’s behavior this way?”
“Would I listen to an adult friend’s problem in this same way?”

Anytime I answer no to these questions, I need to pause and ask myself why. Parenting is a conscious effort. It is an active endeavour and no easy task. My son needs to be empowered to assert himself and make decisions – and he deserves to have his preferences respected. If I don’t allow him to do that, who will?
My son teaches me more than I realize and in that moment, he helped me tune into the bigger picture.


This post is part of Bigger Picture Moments where we step back and take in life.

Bigger Picture Moment

12 thoughts on “Parenting and Empowerment: Raising a person

  1. Sarah, this was SUCH a good and powerful read, that every parent should take a look at. And those list of questions? So important to ask ourselves as we work, live, and play with our children.
    Thank you for linking up today :)

  2. Yes, yes, yes. So well said! It’s something I struggle with daily, this pull to make my children into certain molds, while knowing — KNOWING — they’re their own individuals. They are important and worthwhile, just as they are.

    I loved this, and I’m so glad you linked up today! I feel like I need to send this post to everyone I know!

  3. Thank you, that is a very powerful and thoughtful post. It is such a hard line to draw, between rules and discipline and treating our children with respect, allowing them grow and develop into their own person with their own opinions. I have two teenagers and struggle all the time with this, like walking a tightrope.

  4. Yes! Sarah, well said. I was just thinking this week about where I draw the line between when my little one should assert herself and when I should step in to make the right decisions for her – unless safety is concerned of course.

    Where I’m from, kids are treated like kids for a LONG time. Decision making on their own doesn’t really come into play until probably in their teenage years. Seriously.

    And I definitely do not want that for my daughter.

  5. Yes. I really struggle with this, especially as my son grows older. It’s hard sometimes to be conscious and break the habits. I grew up with very strict, overbearing parents who really didn’t let me make any decisions. As an adult, I now am very indecisive. (I am getting better at it, though.) I don’t want my children to be like me…I want them to have the strength and confidence to be able to make decisions for themselves.

  6. You last line, “My son teaches me more than I realize and in that moment, he helped me tune into the bigger picture.” is so true. Just this week, with my toddler in full-blown toddler mode, I learned from him, that I need to respect him, and change my behavior when I’m not getting the behavior out of him that I expect. Parenting is a constant learning process isn’t it?

  7. What an incredible message. I feel like I could print this and frame it as a constant reminder to treat my son with respect. It would be so easy to make promises to him and not keep them, because he’s two and he can be more easily distracted from the things he wants, but I make an effort not to do that for him. If he can’t trust me 100% to treat him respectfully now when he’s so young and vulnerable, how will he ever trust me at 16 when he needs me for more serious issues?

  8. I’m so tired, so I hope my comment is coherent. This is an important and valuable discussion for all parents, and at the same time a fine balance we walk. Without question I agree that our children are little and important people unto themselves, but I also feel that giving them too much autonomy too soon can be a recipe for trouble. It obviously depends on the issues, and for all kids the issues and influences are different. I’m thinking of mostly older kids too, but I think some of the foundation for instilling appropriate decision making powers starts young. Okay, I’m rambling. I love the sentiment here as I’ve told you before and I’d love to see you write more on this stuff! :-)

  9. Great post as usual. I too am learning each day. I’m learning I need to be more patient with my guys. Sometimes difficult at some moments. I’m learning to remove myself from the situation for a moment and calm down so I don’t snap at L instead of calmly explaining to him and giving him a choice. The easy way or the hard way…. He is learning and I am learning. We have to constantly grow and learn and the kids sure help us realize what is important.

  10. Wow Sarah. This is an amazing post. You bring up so many points that I never really thought about (and I thought I thought about EVERYTHING!). I will have to print that list of questions out and keep them handy…

    I do tend to think my kids are MINE. And I don’t think it’s completely wrong to feel that way as they are MINE to mold, to build, to create in the way I believe is best. However, I only have so much power. BECAUSE they are individuals, I can’t have complete control and I have to take what I’m given and work with that. But until I no longer have control, I do hope to feel that they can learn from ME, that I can guide them and help them as well as support them in the choices they make.

    Great post!

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