If children are really to be treated as equals at their core we have to re-think many of our parenting practices. In order to explore this possibility I have introduced the model of See-Saw Parenting as explained in my book Family Entanglement. It is a model in which both parties must participate to balance the seesaw and enjoy the back-and-forth motion that it provides. It is based on the idea all people—parents and children alike–come to this earth with a unique presence, a special essence, and that, at that basic core, all people are equal. As such they are, from their birth onward, equally deserving of mutual respect and dignity.
What would this sort of parenting look like? It would certainly raise some difficult questions. How can we treat children as equals when they are small and undeveloped and lacking in knowledge and experience? “Parents have to be in charge,” we say or children will run amok. But if we remember our history those same arguments have been used again and again to justify the lower status of slaves, women, racial and ethnic out groups, or differing sexual orientations. Those individuals were seen as lacking the capability or wisdom to take care of themselves, much less rule or make decisions for society at large. In the case of children those considerations are largely accurate: they can’t vote; they can’t drive or support themselves; as babies they can’t even talk or feed themselves. So how can we treat them as equals?
Can it be done? What do you think? How would you do it? Can parents really treat a three-year-old as an equal when he bops his little brother on the head just to get a toy? What about a teenager who spends far more time researching her nail polish than she does her term paper? What about a baby who presents you with a dirty diaper on a daily basis?
I believe it is a question worth answering and next week I will give the answer that I have formulated.