It is my belief that traditional western parenting models are all about getting children into the system. We have taught children that the authority of the parent is based on their ability to inflict pain/punishment and their ability to withhold resources as punishment. Patriarchal parenting values obedience over all else, it teaches the child to submit to the will of the parent and not to question the will of the parent. By extension, the child learns to bow to authority and participate in systems of power-over. This causes problems around consent and exploitation.
Inevitably, when bringing up children, there is, and has to be a power imbalance. The younger a child is, the less able they are to care for themselves and the harder it is for them to make good choices because they just don’t know enough. I’ve seen a lot of media representations that suggest there are only two ways of parenting – good, responsible, disciplined parenting (patriarchy) or wet liberal ineptitude that will spoil the child entirely and leave them unable to cope with the real world. So, here are some tactics that I think help if you want to raise a child in non-patriarchal ways.
Be clear that you don’t know everything, you aren’t automatically right, you aren’t some sort of God and you don’t always know what’s best. Admit that you can make mistakes and do not ask your child to believe in the rightness and infallibility of your power.
Any chance you can, explain why you are setting rules, or boundaries, or saying no. Help them understand. Explain to them that they don’t know enough yet to make good choices and that you are helping them get to the point where they can make these choices for themselves. As they become more able to make their own choices, give them the opportunity to do that. Start them off with safe spaces where they can afford to make mistakes and learn from them.
Ask your child for their opinion, thoughts, feelings and preferences. Be clear that they won’t always get what they want, but that their opinion matters and is noted. Take their feelings and opinions seriously and make sure they can see that you do this.
Teach them to negotiate with you. Tell them that if they can make a good and reasoned case for why they want a thing, they might get it. As a bonus, this lures a child away from screaming and temper tantrums really quickly if they can see it works.
Recognise that they are capable of knowing more about something than you do (for me, it was dinosaurs very early on).
Give them opportunities to say no to you, and have that honoured. This is especially important around body contact, and establishing how consent works, and their right to say no. Create situations where it doesn’t matter if they say yes or no, and then let them decide.
I found that doing this meant I could also say ‘if I give you an order, you are to follow it without question or hesitation’ and have that be taken seriously by the child. It was understood that I would only do this in emergencies when there wasn’t time to explain or negotiate, and that I would explain afterwards if necessary.
I found that taking my child seriously and only giving orders in emergencies meant that my child trusted me, was likely to co-operate with me, and did not see what authority I needed to wield as unfair. As a consequence, he doesn’t treat power over others as something he needs as the only way of avoiding people having power over him.