I was stuck in power struggles with my daughter because I didn’t want to give in. If I did, I feared she would have all the power. She would learn that anytime she wanted her way, she could just dig in until she outlasted me. I couldn’t have that. So I dug in too. Until I understood how “letting go” could change our relationship.
My daughter was a won’t take no for an answer/won’t be told what to do kind of a kid. It’s hard to accept a child like this until you understand it as inborn personality rather than manipulative, oppositional behavior that must be eradicated. But that’s what I tried to do so I couldn’t give in, I couldn’t let her get away with it. As long as I believed I had to train her out of this opposition, I had to maintain control. Anything else felt like giving in.
Contrary to my initial opinion, letting go was not the same as giving in. Letting go was actually in my control. It was my choice to engage or disengage from a power struggle, to make her wrong or understand where she was coming from.
Letting go means being open minded enough to let go of your opinion and accept other points of view, even a child’s. You may get stuck in your own opinion about what is right for awhile, but when you’re willing to consider another viewpoint or understand new information, it may be just enough to allow you to rethink your stance, change your mind, and back down from what no longer seems important—to let go of your position, to let go of having to be right. People who can let go have an easy time saying, “I’m sorry” or “I was wrong about that.” That’s called appropriate social interaction and is important modeling.
Giving in means handing over your power to your child usually because you are trying to avoid a meltdown, a disappointment, an argument. Giving in means letting your child win while you lose. It gives your child too much power.
When you “stand on principle” because you’re stuck in the I’m the boss, I have to be right mode, you think that you are giving in whenever your child has a win. You do not allow another point of view, certainly not your child’s. You believe that you must win because you are right. So does your child. That’s called a power struggle. You’re both in it to make the other lose.
When I was determined to make my daughter get dressed and ready quickly and cooperatively on school mornings so that my schedule could move along smoothly, she resisted with a stubborn attitude, protruding lower lip and refusal to get dressed or move quickly. Power struggles were a regular part of the morning routine.
But once I realized that my assumptions about her motives were misguided, letting go was natural. Thinking she was out to get me and was determined to ruin my day, meant I had to hold my ground and undermine hers. Anything else would have felt like giving in. Once I saw that she was truly miserable, that she had a very difficult time getting going in the morning because she was dreading saying good bye to me and leaving home, my angry control switched to compassion and empathy. I learned that she couldn’t back down from her point of view and change how she felt—it wasn’t that she wouldn’t. This was her temperament, who she was. Stubborn, yes. Determined, absolutely. But she wasn’t trying to make me mad, she was in fact miserable when she felt forced to do something she hated, especially when I thought she was being obstinate. When I realized I couldn’t make her change and instead I could trust where she was coming form, I could let go of trying to control her. I could listen and empathize. I could let her be her. When she felt understood she relaxed. And in the letting go, I could connect and her behavior responded positively.
To maintain important rules, to hang in there when you really do know what is best, to be the authority your children need, requires confidence that you are not losing ground if you let go, confidence that your child has a right to argue a point and sometimes does know what is best for himself, and confidence that you do not have to give in when you need to maintain appropriate limits or say “no”. Saying no with confidence sends a very different message than saying no with a power struggle.