Why do parents coerce their children despite having been through it themselves?

Sarah Fitz-Claridge

“Why do most parents coerce their children despite having been through it themselves in their own childhoods?”

(See also: the deeper explanatory answer David Deutsch gave me
when I asked him this question thirty-something years ago)

The most obvious answer to this question is that it is a matter of knowledge: parents do not know that problems are soluble. They do not know that coercion is not necessary, let alone that it is harmful.

In many cases, parents fear ruining their children’s future by not doing what everyone including experts say is vital. When most of us become a parent, we feel ill-equipped and scared that we will make a terrible mistake that will ruin our child’s life. The responsibility feels very great, and we so much want the best for our child. Who are we to go against the entire consensus of expert opinion, our relatives and friends, and really, the entire world? To think that we might have a better idea feels breathtakingly arrogant. If we reject the consensus and take our children seriously and it all goes horribly wrong and our children’s lives are ruined, it will be our fault. If we stick with the conventional standard ideas and do what everyone is telling us we must do, then if it all goes horribly wrong, well at least we did what we were supposed to do.

When you are a new parent, with the life of another human beings in your hands, it takes immense courage to go against the consensus. It feels super risky. Everyone disapproves and they tell you so in really hurtful ways. And they fire difficult questions at you, demanding justification for the seemingly insane risk you are taking with your child’s life. And when you cannot immediately answer their arguments and questions, doubt can creep in, and if you feel isolated in your ideas, you might cave to the pressure to take the standard paternalistic approach instead of taking your child seriously.

If parents knew that they could reject the paternalistic approach and it would not ruin their precious child’s life, many more would do so. If you cannot see that rejecting the status quo is not only right, but also will not have any disastrous unintended consequences, it feels safer to stick with the tradition of paternalistic coercion.

So one of the reasons for this site is to give parents moral and philosophical support as they courageously choose to take their children seriously instead of going along with the standard coercive approach.

The answer I have just given raises the question, why is it that even parents taking their children seriously sometimes say or do coercive things that are out of alignment with their non-coercive intentions? Probably all parents have experienced moments when it feels as if they were for a moment possessed. People talk about hearing their mother’s words coming out of their mouth – words they were determined never to say to their own children. Parents who vowed never to hit their own children find themselves hitting their child and feeling appalled that they did that. This is a common phenomenon. Why does that happen? See: Why did my mother’s coercive words fly out of my mouth?!

Sarah Fitz-Claridge, Taking Children Seriously FAQ: ‘Why do parents coerce their children despite having been through it themselves?’, https://www.takingchildrenseriously.com/why-do-parents-coerce-their-children-despite-having-been-through-it-themselves/

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