Updated: Aug 17, 2022
"I am a sovereign being... but I control my kids. It's for their own good."
Sovereignty means (per merriam-webster) freedom of external control. When we believe that human beings are sovereign beings, we are saying that humans are born with a right to freedom from external control. External control is all around us. Our government tries to controls us, schools try to control us, our place of employment tries to control us, our parents tried (and/or still try) to control us, our partners may try to control us. It is deeply embedded in our culture. This is a deep mistrust of humans and human nature. If we let humans just be themselves without external control, what do we think might happen??
A lot of gentle and alternative parents are quick to point out that human beings are sovereign yet they can use many control and manipulative tactics with their children. Children are, apparently, not included in their idea of freedom of external control. They are basically recreating the toxic systems that, they themselves are trying to break of, in their homes and parenting styles.
Euro-Western, capitalist society relies on controlling large groups of people. These systems hold a fundamental belief that humans NEED to be controlled by those who "know better." Sound familiar? It is also part of the dominant parenting paradigm, even within many gentle parenting philosophies. We are passing on this paradigm of control to the next generation and it goes on and on and on. It's great for corporations and institutions that require conformity and obedience but strips people of their right to sovereignty.
Children Have Rights
When we gestate and give birth to a child, are we given unalienable rights over this child? Our culture assumes that we should be given these rights and we can basically control our children however we want to. But if our child is a sovereign being, how does that work? Can we force-feed a sovereign being or leave them alone to "cry-it-out"? Is that honoring their rights as sovereign individuals?
What if we do not have the right to control and dominate our children? What if every time we say no to them, force them to do something against their will, or control them via manipulation we are violating their sovereignty?
It's something worth pondering. Especially for those who strongly believe they have sovereign rights as an adult but justify controlling and manipulating their children "for their own good."
How can we tell when we are violating a child's sovereignty? These are some clues:
You speak to them in ways that you would never speak to an adult (because to an adult it would be seen as belittling, disrespectful, abusive, etc)
You punish, reward, and/or manipulate via emotional blackmail (e.g. Make me happy by doing _____, do this and you get ______, don't do this and I'll do ______ to you or _____ will happen to you)
You think you know better than them about their own experience
You deny their reality/gaslight or impose your beliefs on them (e.g. you're just tired that is why you are upset, stop crying you'll get the ice cream later)
You physically force them to do things
Making fun of them, making jokes about them, complaining about them, judging them (especially in their presence)
You withhold your affection and/or attention when they do something you don't like
We are inundated in this toxic control culture that has been passed down through the violence of colonization, capitalism, and agriculture (agriculture shifted the way people parented, viewed people, etc). If you recognize this is a problem and you want to shift from control to partnership and respect, how do you break the cycle?
The Practice of No "No"
Practice not saying "No". For a while, I was skeptical when I heard of gentle parents who do not say "no" to their children. My first reaction was "everyone needs boundaries, boundaries are healthy!" My understanding of this practice has evolved since then and now I see deep wisdom and intelligence in it. "No" offers no opportunity for collaboration and partnership. "No" is the ultimate expression of having power over others. On the flip side, explanation and collaboration honor our child's sovereignty. When we remove "no" from our vocabulary with our child, we open up endless possibilities for explanations, understanding, collaboration, and teamwork.
Instead of saying "no" we can offer explanations such as "your sister has a right to be safe and not have her body hurt. What you are doing is hurting her body. Can you choose a safer activity?" Then we can offer options for safer activities. When a child is very young, we can remove them from harming others while explaining how their actions affect others and other ways they can meet their needs without harming others.
The practice of not saying "no" helps us recognize that our children are born good. They are primed to be pro-social and fit into the society they were born into. They do not need us to control and manipulate them into being good humans. They already are good humans. We are here to help make sure they are living in a healthy environment, that they are not mistreated and that they have access to everything they need.
This practice is not easy. I consider myself a beginner in learning how to stop saying "no" and honor my child's sovereignty. What matters isn't perfection but the willingness to keep going and to improve.