It has been a difficult time. I could be talking about the past week, few months, year, or entire presidential term. If you are suddenly feeling like I should stick with parenting and not “get political” kindly see yourself out. Everything is political, especially parenting.
For those who are undeterred, welcome. Hello and I’m glad you are here. I am going to talk about the importance of how you raise your kids, and why I do what I do. Last night, I posted a photo of my family on social media with a short caption:
Many people left very kind comments. But one white woman (notable since so.very.many white women—55%—voted for the Republican candidate last week) left the following comment:
Your hearts aren’t going to pay your bills.
I have been TRYING VERY HARD to understand different ways of thinking about where we are as a country and where we are heading/need to go. It seems the economy is something people on the other side of the aisle are noting to justify their views and votes. This woman’s comment is one example, but there are plenty of others. This was my response:
Wow. Sure won’t. But maybe they will fix our tax code, abysmal social safety net, widespread systemic racism, and hyper-capitalist economy. People over profits seems far fetched to you, I’m sure. But LOTS of other countries are faring better in these regards and Americans could perhaps be less stubborn in their refusal to see a different way than this divided, individualistic version of things?
We went on in our debate, but I won’t go into that here. Suffice to say the work I do is about having heart. It’s inherently political, because the personal is political. My new book, Raising Humans With Heart (coming soon) is about how to be with your children. How to connect, listen, communicate, and practice emotional regulation along with them. In my new book, I say:
It comes down to power. In a teacher training years ago, I learned about two types of power: power-to and power-over. Power-to is our ability to take action and do things for ourselves, while power-over is trying to control others and circumstances outside ourselves. Our goal as parents, teachers, and other caregivers is to promote the former and diminish the latter. The only time an adult person needs to exert power-over a young person is for safety concerns. It’s worth noting that children whose power-to gets regularly thwarted will seek to gain power-over with their siblings and peers. I get calls from parents who want help with providing discipline (in my book it’s always a noun, not a verb or something you “do to” a child), handling tantrums, and navigating big feelings—theirs and their children’s—with relative grace and good humor. All these issues are rooted in power, specifically, who has it? These struggles boil down to the question of who has power over whom. Power-over is the real problem. When we try to control another person’s behavior or emotions (especially emotions), we overstep our bounds. Author and early childhood educator Janet Gonzalez-Mena once said, “Instead of assuming a power stance, a parent can become a problem-solving facilitator.” To which I say: Yes! But this is only possible when we step back from the comforting habit of taking over and giving orders.
Ah yes, power.
Because how you wield power in your home is important. It matters. When we are raised to consider power to be scarce, then we are always grasping for it. Brené Brown gives an even more nuanced tutorial (and shares about two other types of power: power-with and power-within) at the beginning of this podcast where she happens to interview Joe Biden (highly recommend). She also jokes about how she and her husband wonder if their gravestones will say, Died of Rugged Individualism. We cannot keep exclusively promoting individualism, independence, and competition in our homes. We can’t keep using fear as a tool to oppress children. Look around at the challenges we face. Darwin was wrong. It won’t be survival of the “fittest,” and certainly not the most powerful. I think it will be more like the survival of the most cooperative.
I help people think about parenting in a new context. To see it through a different lens. I guide parents and caregivers to focus on connection, cooperation, kindness, and love—with a deeper understanding of their children’s brain development. I help them navigate a new relationship with authority. Authority is not the enemy, but many don’t know how to be firm and kind at the same time. We only know authority as authoritarianism.
Things can get better.
If you are struggling with parenting, I want to help. In 2020 I made all my services available on a sliding scale. You can access my Parent RESET for the price of your choosing (or with a full scholarship). My coaching is also now set up on a scale. Grab an hour and we will set up a time to talk. You deserve support because you are doing the MOST IMPORTANT work in raising the next generation. Thank you.
Sarah MacLaughlin is author of the award-winning book,What Not to Say: Tools for Talking with Young Children and has been featured in The Huffington Post. She’s writing new book Raising Humans With Heart: Not A How-To Manual. A human development nerd, she brings over 25 years of experience working with children and families to her coaching practice. Sarah is also mom to a tweenager who gives her plenty of opportunities to take her own advice.