A lack of forcefulness is good not bad

Steven K. Graham

From the archives: Posted on 22nd May, 1995

A poster wrote:

“I’ve read a lot of Sarah’s postings about coercion. My question is simple: How does one get past the idea that non-coercive parenting is just lazy parenting, and that if I weren’t so lazy, I would enforce things like bedtime, eating vegetables, and all of that? Our society tends to equate non-coercion with child neglect.”

There is such a thing as lazy parenting and there is such a thing as permissive parenting, but non-coercive parenting is not those things. At least in the short term non-coercive parenting is much harder, it takes patience, it takes imagination, it takes flexibility, it takes commitment, it takes a willingness to have others look at you as though you are nuts.

“My mother doesn’t really enter into the picture so far as this stuff goes. I’ve always been a non-coercive parent, but my usual justification has been along the lines of ‘I just can’t stand to see him/her unhappy because of [bedtime, dressing in what I think best, etc.]’ From a few months along, my kids refused to have their diapers changed while lying on their back. So I let them lie on their tummies, or had them stand up when they were older, and so forth. However, I always wondered if I shouldn’t somehow have been more forceful. Frankly, a lot of people who saw me cooperating with my babies by changing them in this manner seemed to think I was nuts (which also bothers me a bit) The examples go on and on.”

(the bad news) FWIW – no matter what you do, some people will think you are nuts!

(the good news) You’ve managed to find some people (on the taking children seriously list) who will think you are brave and wise and compassionate and etc. for your parenting choices.

“I guess I tend to see my own lack of forcefulness as a possibly negative characteristic.”

No. A lack of forcefulness is not a negative characteristic. Something potentially negative is if, as you work with your children, you find yourself sacrificing your own desires. You respect your children and take their desires seriously. You need to be sure to respect yourself and your own desires as well. This is where non-coercive parenting becomes a challenge – finding mutually preferable options when there are apparent conflicts. It takes work and imagination and patience and commitment and so on. And it is oh-so-easy to punt and fall back on either coercion or self-sacrifice.

Another poster had written:

“Imho, non-coercive parenting is much harder. It’s easy to say ‘We’re going to the grocery store’; it’s harder to persuade a reluctant child to come along. It’s easy to say ‘Stop that’; it can be hard to explain why a child should.”

The poster replied:

“How about if what happens is that you decide NOT to go to the grocery store because of the objections, or you decide that they don’t have to ‘Stop that’? I have done explanations, but I have also changed my plans a number of times as well. I guess it is the latter that concerns me, and makes me wonder if non-coercion is the lazy way out.”

I know that I am often wrong. If I didn’t change my mind when interacting with my children, then I could not pretend that I was taking them seriously. It isn’t non-coercion to ‘explain’ things to your children unless they have the option to reject your explanation and ‘explain’ things to you. And it isn’t a matter of either-or, but of finding solutions that everyone prefers.

Steven K. Graham, 1995, ‘A lack of forcefulness is good not bad’, https://www.takingchildrenseriously.com/a-lack-of-forcefulness-is-good-not-bad/