‘No’ was my son’s favourite word for a long time. The moment he got it, he wouldn’t stop using it. Even when he actually wanted to say yes, he’d say No – just because he could.
Whether it was about the food being offered, a planned activity or simply moving to a different room ‘No, no nononono!’ was the standard answer. When this first happened, I got quite a fright. He was always pretty easy going, and suddenly everything was just NO. I couldn’t help but feeling challenged, restricting inside myself and feeling the urge to ‘man up’ and take control over the situation. When I acted on this state of mind, he’d start cooperating even less and we both ended up with the short end of the stick in the situation.
I realised that my forcefulness directed towards him, was misplaced. When he’d say ‘no’ I immediately assumed that his ‘no’ was meant to challenge me and my authority as a parent – instead of seeing it as him practicing his own individuality and his own voice. I’d feel powerless and helpless for a split-second, and then immediately sway into a dominant and controlling stance to get away from that icky-feeling to pretending that I absolutely know what I am doing and force him into a decision he didn’t want to make. Ironically, within believing that he was challenging and undermining me, I was through my controlling behaviour undermining and challenging HIM. Through imposing ‘my way’ on him, I was removing the space for his voice, for his individuality to come through. While I believed I was being the victim of the situation, I inadvertently put him in the exact same position.
I reflected on this behaviour, and looked at why I was being triggered into controlling behaviour. When I looked at how the event played out, I could see more and more that I wasn’t so much upset at him saying ‘No’, but that I was upset with myself and my split second experience of helplessness and powerlessness. Instead of seeing and acknowledging how I felt, I immediately suppressed the experience and entered its equivalent polarity of domination and control. When I worked on not reacting to him saying no and voicing his preference the whole dynamic changed. I could listen to his voice, his preference and modify our course of action if there was space to do so. If he really didn’t have a choice, I’d explain to him why and he’d cooperate knowing that his voice was heard and that the course of action we were taking was not a personal move ‘against’ HIM.
Whenever we enter into a state of control, we’re actually entering into a state of avoidance. We modify our behaviour and try and change and be on top of things in our environment. Through externally keeping everything a certain way, we are allowed to remain in our personal comfort zone. There is no room for growth or expansion, for trying something new, for a new perspective – because it may trigger feelings inside of us we don’t know what to do with. In a sense, we enter control because we are afraid of ourselves. We know ourselves very well, we know our weaknesses, we know our vulnerabilities. Instead of embracing them with open arms and working with them, it’s easier to arrange everything in a way where we don’t get triggered so that we are not reminded of their existence.
Unfortunately, the more we try and hide from ourselves, the stronger these experiences become. Within fearing our own vulnerabilities, we are stating that they are ‘more than’ us, that these experiences are ‘so big’ and ‘so powerful’ that we cannot deal with them and that it is better to sweep them under the rug. More often than not, the experiences we try to avoid as parents have their origin in our own childhood. Wounds from our own childhood which have yet to be healed as they have been ignored over time. When we keep suppressing and ignoring them, while at the same time be controlled by them which becomes apparent in our behaviour – we inevitably wound our own children. This is because we will consciously or unconsciously manipulate, control and steer their behaviour to fit a certain image we are comfortable with, while eradicating and persecuting any behaviour which may remind us of our own personal wounds. They are no longer free to be true to themselves and develop their independent voice and unique expression, because the parameters of what they can do and can be – are rigidly being kept in place by the parent.
When we are vulnerable and open with ourselves, we can deal with our own insecurities and pains from the past and work through them. Vulnerability is our ability to feel ourselves, to draw ourselves near to what we really experience so we may learn from it. Our behaviour towards our children is then no longer controlled by what we experience, but we can now actually see our child and act in accordance with what is best for them and their unique expression.