Part 4: Power With or Power Over

This is part four of the 5-part series: Relationships Are Complicated! Check out parts one, twothree, and five.


Relationships Are Complicated.P4I grew up hearing this old adage “I’m not your friend, I’m your mother!” Did you, too? My mom loved to throw that at me whenever she was about to bring down the hammer hard and I always remember thinking, rather sarcastically, “I wouldn’t be your friend if they paid me.” Needless to say, she and I are still not friends (not because of the adage, due to some other stuff…but you get the point!) But, the fact remains: we sometimes sabotage our relationship with our child because we are afraid that we’ll be their friend. And, that’s a fear or anxiety that I can happily squash for you with this post!

Have you ever said something like what my mom said to you kid? Have you ever worried that being too lenient or giving in too much would swing your relationship with your kid over into the friend zone? Do you ever think that being friends with your kid is something that shouldn’t happen to they get older, if ever? If you answered yes to these questions, let me be the first to tell you: the friendship thing cannot happen while you’re still your child’s main caretaker.

The main reason for this is due to the power differentials in your relationship with your kid. A power differential is a relationship between two or more people where power is distributed among each person with one person carrying the majority of the power. In the world outside your home, power differentials exist in the workplace and in our government. They exist to make sure that the proper checks and balances keep people from having too much executive power and control (that’s how it’s supposed to work anyways; let’t not take this post political, okay). In your home, the power differential exists between the parents and the children.

So since you having the majority of the power as the parent, there is no way that you and your child can ever be friends until the power gap between you is lessened or extinguished. To recap, even if you’re being more lenient and giving in there really isn’t any threat of your child thinking that you are friends.

Getting a bit deeper and linking it to why our relationships with our kids becomes complicated: no matter what you think about your parenting your kid knows that you are in charge. They may do things to make you think differently (i.e., refuse to do chores, talk back, enlist other family members’ in a coup, etc.), but you are the one in charge in your family if you are part of the caregiving unit! That’s the first thing you have to realize here.

The next step to getting a deeper understanding of this power differential is to realize that what you do with that power dictates how your kid reacts and what type of relationship you have with your kid. Looking at the world outside your home for a great example: no matter how idiotic your boss may be, you are never doubtful that they are your boss. You have to listen to them (no matter how disgruntled you may be) and you have to abide by their sometimes less than efficient workplace antics. But, all in all, you have to do as they say. Now, you’re thinking, “Duh, Mercedes, that’s why I get so frustrated when my kid doesn’t realize who’s boss in my house!” And, you’d be right to be frustrated. However, how do you feel when you less than efficient, idiotic boss tells you what to do? Do you feel motivated to get it done on time, with your best effort given? Or do you get it done at the last minute and with the least amount of effort? If you’re being honest, it’s probably the latter. And, if you’re following along which type of “employee” would you say you kid is to your “boss”? Uh-huh, it’s most likely the latter.

The interesting thing about power differentials is that when used effectively and with relationship building as the foundation for the power, we can really shift how our power is perceived and received.

When we have bosses that believe in us, know our work ethic, acknowledge our contributions, and show their flaws as well we tend to be more motivated to follow their lead and do what is asked. This is what we call a “power with” mentality (a tenant of nonviolent communication and nonviolent parenting). For those keeping track, the example prior is a “power over” mentality. When we work together for a common goal, even as the leader, we motivate those under us (i.e., our kids) to be inspired and want to do as we ask. But, at the core of a “power with” mentality is the relationship. Our awesome boss does not become our friend and we respect the boundary that they are our boss, but we still feel connected to their vision and their goals enough to want to be a part of achieving it as a team. When we parallel that with what we want for our family, is that the thought process you have: wanting to inspire one another to get the finish line as a team? If not, then you are missing that core ingredient that bolsters the power differential in your home: the relationship.

Going back to the initial idea of friending your child: you can’t so don’t worry about it! Seriously! When you take a “power with” stance in how you use the power differentials in your home, it actually creates an environment where each member is motivated to help and contribute instead of feeling forced to be active part of the team. Creating a space like this will actually lay the foundation for a friendship when your child is older and when you no longer have to be the sole proprietor of their well-being. When we think about how we can wield our power as parents to inspire, motivate, challenge, and enact change what it boils down to is whether we are willing to work alongside our children as leaders or rule over them as dictators.

The last post (going live next Sunday) will focus on how technology can actually enhance your relationships!

4 thoughts on “Part 4: Power With or Power Over”

  1. trenna says:

    I love it when something I read really makes me think. This one takes me deep.

    1. Hi Trenna and welcome to the blog! I am glad that the post got you thinking and hope that you’re able to read the whole series. I think this is a topic that we all forget to stop and think about when we are living our everyday lives. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts and hope that you will share your thoughts other posts on the blog!

  2. Lanie Smith says:

    Love the Power With approach…for kids, adults, and just humans in general. Life is just better in general when we come from a place of love rather than force and fear!

    1. Hi Lanie and welcome back to the blog. I always enjoy your insights. I love this approach too. It came from my training in nonviolent parenting! I agree that this perspective can definitely be applied across our whole human experience. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I look forward to seeing your thoughts on other posts as well!

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