I was embarrassed that I had welled up to the point where my nose and my eyes could no longer function properly. I attempted not to take a huge breath or blink since tears were going to pour. From the stage I listened to Heather C. McGhee tell all of us that we needed to listen and understand one another, to meet in our humanity if there was to be true change. I began to cry because I know that this is the answer. As a psychotherapist to families and children, I sit and listen to others' humanity daily, and it always works when we listen, understand, and meet in that place of "yes, me too." However, in this moment at the We Won’t Wait Summit my tears were a mixture of McGhee stating what I believe to my soul and knowing how difficult it is for people to sit, speak, and listen to one another's experiences and feelings.
The We Won’t Wait Summit was a gathering of 1000+ leaders, advocates, and groups, working on bringing forth a policy agenda that promotes economic security and communities that thrive. I was there as part of the MomsRising delegation, one of the sponsors of the summit. I was humbled, honored and accepting of the great responsibility to listen and learn about how to elicit these conversations that can enrich the development of our country and its public policies. The summit brought me to thinking about the parents and families that I work with at my center.
Continually, parents wonder how harsh or strict they must be for their child to listen and learn. They ask me questions like, "but if I give in to their behavior or feelings how do I keep my authority? Won't they win?" My answer is always the same: listen, label emotions, communicate, attempt to understand what the behavior and feelings are telling you. It is the same answer given at this summit as it pertains to listening to domestic workers, immigrants, restaurant workers, LGBTQ communities and those in the Black Lives Matter movement. As McGhee spoke, my darker pessimistic feelings spoke up: if parents can't bring themselves to listen and understand their own children who I know they love more than anything in their world, how can we possibly listen and understand another person in our community who we may see as threatening, sinful, or "not like me"?
Our country's political system and the parents at my center are in a parallel process. They are both trying to keep order. They are both being blinded by their wishes, perceived obligations and expectations and forgetting to wonder how the child or community best needs help so that they can thrive and grow. In child development we know parents tend to choose a parenting style to discipline. The development community has researched three: authoritarian, authoritative, and permissive. In my observation, our country is stuck in an authoritarian style. Parents usually chose one of the three.
An authoritarian style of parenting assumes that the parent knows best. An authoritarian parent takes the stance that a child should follow their rules "or else..." This styles leaves no room for the parent to take into account the child's emotional and developmental reasons for their behavior. Authoritarian parents do not take into account the developmental and emotional reasons their children may not follow certain rules. This parenting styles makes for well-behaved children, but it minimizes the child's ability to know right from wrong. This is because they are blindly following the rule of the parent and they do not get to use their cognitive skills to understand "why" someone follows a rule, which decreases self-awareness, moral reasoning and for some, self-esteem. An authoritarian parenting style can cause a child to lie or hide their feelings since the only reason to follow a rule is to not be punished. Those of you who had authoritarian parents may find yourself stuck making decisions, always wondering what others might think or feel, usually searching for external cues on how to act.
As I was listening to the speakers at the summit I realized our political system is stuck in an authoritarian model. The policies and believes of each political party are expected for all to adhere to. We are not fully asking or wondering what our communities need in the way of help and change. We are not looking at how our country is shifting, developing and changing in the make-up of our citizens, in the same way a parent can have a hard time understanding the shifts and changes of their child's development. So what is the answer? We need to shift to an authoritative style in our parenting and in our political system.
An authoritative parent is warm and firm. They explain the rules and allow for the child to be part of the process of how those rules affect or help them. They take into account a child's emotions, individuality and wonder how the family rules affect or help their child. This style of parenting takes more time since the child sometimes repeats the "bad" behavior until they understand internally how the rule is valuable to them and to their parent. Studies since the 1980's have shown a strong correlation between authoritative style of parenting and higher self-reliance, self-confidence and social competence.
Our political system can take an authoritative stance as well; it is important to sit down with the community and wonder together what policies and laws best help them. It is important to understand how the community feels their needs can be met. They are the ones who have suffered the injustice, so it is crucial to ask them how to rectify it. It is also important for our political system to shift from punishing to assisting in building our greatest values of equality and "liberty and justice for ALL."
The summit gave me much to think about. I give in my daily way to my community and realize that when I help parents I help them build citizens of the world who can bring positive change to our society. Take a moment to think about your stance as a parent and as a citizen. How do you discipline? How do you wish our government to govern? Vote your conscience. Parent your children to thrive and grow.