Thursday, July 27, 2006

Influence and control

I've been thinking about the relationship between influence and control for a while now. I have a feeling that this must be one of those fundamentals of human relationships, especially between parents and children. Parents and children are of course not equal participants in their relationships. Parents have more experience, more knowledge and more ability to control the world around them. But I think it's simplistic to portray the relationship as being hierarchical. I do not want to be the boss of my children. I want to raise them to be good bosses to themselves.

So I have never wanted to control my children. I've wanted them to learn to be "under control" in that they understand social/behavioural expectations and can control themselves within acceptable limits. I have felt, though, that exerting control over them is not the most effective way to nurture that self-control as I have been very aware in my own personality of the tendency to push against controls exerted from the outside. Neufeld and Maté call this a rousing of "counterwill." It's part of the human drive towards autonomy and independence.

Instead I have tried to create a family environment where I have the ability to influence my children. The medium-term result may be the same (children who do what their parents would like them to do) but the psychological climate, I'm convinced, is different. The bigger the element of control gets, the smaller the amount of influence. The greater the influence, the less control is required.

I feel fortunate that the combination of temperaments, parenting style and homeschooling approach have created a family climate where Chuck and I seem to be able to influence our children where we feel it is important to do so. And as a result we seem to have been able to get away without exerting a great deal of control. This has been rather a necessity with the elder children, as they seem to have counterwill reflexes that are, er, rather easily elicited. I once made the mistake of telling Erin that she ought to, on no uncertain terms, say "sorry" to her brother. It was about 6 years later that I finally heard her express a verbal apology. My kids seem to have been dealt heaping portions of counterwill. For better or for worse. At times I despair about this, but then I realize that I have been forced to relate to them in non-controlling ways and so instead I have managed to nurture my ability to influence them.

As they get older and closer to adulthood it becomes increasingly important to know that even in the absence of any controlling forces they will behave in safe, respectful and ethical ways.

Today I feel quite happy about the fact that I can't really "make" my children do things :-).

1 comment:

  1. I have found your blog to be truly inspiring. Your description of "influence" versus "control" is so eloquent and concise. Best wishes from another BC family who are just starting our homeschooling journey (your links are a wonderful resource, btw).


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