If I am not allowed to coerce my child, surely I am being coerced myself?

Sarah Fitz-Claridge

“What if my child wants to go to one park, but I want to visit a different park? If such a conflict of interest happened with a friend we might each go alone to our own preferred park. But that would not be realistic with my child, and she wants us to go together anyway, so we can’t both get our way. One of us has to concede. If I am not allowed to coerce my child to go to my preferred park, and I have to go to hers, am I not being coerced to go to hers?”

Assuming you are happily married, would you ever be thinking: “If I am not allowed to coerce my wife, surely I am being coerced myself?”?! No! Never! Not even in your worst moment ever! You take your wife seriously. You are not trying to train or change or improve your wife. You are not trying to win at her expense. You want both of you to win! You love her just as she is. You two solve problems together rather than coercing each other.

Even in moments when you have not yet managed to come up with a brilliant idea that solves a given problem, neither of you is thinking that what is going wrong is not being allowed to coerce the other, or that if you don’t coerce the other, you yourself will be being coerced. In moments when a problem is not yet solved, what you are thinking is that the problem is not yet solved, and that you want it to be solved, and that that means solved to the satisfaction of both of you, not just you, and not just your wife. You love your wife! You don’t want to coerce her any more than you want to coerce yourself. And likewise she loves you and has no wish to coerce you any more than she wants to coerce herself.

The question assumes that there is an inherent irresolvable conflict of interest and that parent and child cannot both get their way. “One of us has to concede.” But the idea that life is a zero-sum game, in which for me to win, you have to lose, or for you to win, I have to lose, is not true. Luckily, we are not limited to the two evils of coercing our child or being coerced. There is another possibility: of solving the problem in a way that works for both of us.

It is not about not being allowed to coerce, it is about no one wanting to coerce each other, because we all want to find a solution that has everyone smiling in delight rather than someone feeling miserable and bulldozed.

The question also seems to assume that non-coercion is the point of taking children seriously, or axiomatic in it, rather than something that emerges from taking people seriously, which is informed by human fallibility and creativity and how knowledge grows.

How might we go about solving such a problem in real time?

See: How do you solve problems where there is a conflict of interest?

Sarah Fitz-Claridge, Taking Children Seriously FAQ: ‘If I am not allowed to coerce my child, surely I am being coerced myself?’, https://www.takingchildrenseriously.com/if-i-am-not-allowed-to-coerce-my-child-surely-i-am-being-coerced-myself/