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Pushing Our Kids

Posted by Sarah Stogryn on

There's a post circulating at the moment about how if we push neurodivergent kids when they're too close to the edge we'll push them over (bad), so we need to wait until they're regulated and ready, then push them just the right amount to challenge themselves (good).

And on first glance I almost shared it, because pushing kids over the edge is obviously a bad thing therefore pushing them just the right amount to 'push themselves' must be a good thing. 

But something felt off so I sat with it.

Whether we push kids (neurodivergent or not) when they're at the edge, or push them when *we* think they can take it, either way, we're pushing our kids in the direction we want them to go. We are exerting power over them and taking away their autonomy. The only question being discussed is how and when the pushing should occur.

But have we stopped to consider – Why do they need to be pushed in the first place?

There is a pervasive and unspoken Eurocentric belief that adults are superior to kids, especially neurodivergent or disabled kids, and we must exert our superior adult power over kids to force them in the direction we decide they need to go, because they're not capable of learning and growing without an adult controlling their path and without our push they won't perform up to society's standard.

Whether we push kids directly or "encourage" them to "push themselves", either way we're telling our kids we know their capacity and needs better than they do, that as children they must subjugate themselves to us, and that we will use our power to make them comply with us. Whether we do this through punishments and consequences or sweetly with a smile and rewards, either way we're using our power to control another person. 

This power-over model is rooted in white supremacy (which is so much more than overt racism), patriarchy, and capitalism. Authoritarian, Authoritative, and Permissive parenting models are all rooted in the power-over dynamics of white supremacy and patriarchy. And before you get upset or defensive, I'm not saying "good" well-intentioned parents who believe they're pushing their kids for their own good, are 'racists'. The systems of white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism are about more than race. (If you want to learn how these systems influence your parenting and how to lean out of these systems, I recommend "Parenting Beyond Power" by Jen Lumanlan.) 

So if I'm not gonna push my kids or encourage them to push themselves, what then? Am I just gonna let them be lazy selfish freeloaders who never grow up? Of course not. That's white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism talking.

In bits and pieces, through words and actions, I tell my kids something like this:


I believe in you. I believe you can do hard things. 

I'll also stand with you if you can't do them, or if you try then need to quit.

Because if you're not free to quit you're not really free (Peter Grey) and because "rest is resistance" (Tricia Hersey).

I believe you are enough and you do not have to justify or earn your well-being.

I'm here to hold whatever parts of life are too heavy for you and I'll pass increasing amounts of the weight of your life to you as you're ready. I will also help you learn how to create the accommodations and support systems you'll need as an adult. Because we're not meant to go through life on our own. 

How much I hold for you will change from day to day, not just as you mature but according to all the things that impact your life and how you're managing in the moment.

When I became a parent I committed to seeing you as a whole, fully human person right from the beginning. I committed to loving you unconditionally, trusting and respecting you, honoring your freedom + autonomy, providing you with opportunities to learn and grow, and to supporting you.

I trust that even as a child you know yourself and your capacity. I trust that like all humans you're wired from birth to learn and grow. And I trust that your innate curiosity and desire to participate meaningfully in the world will propel you forward when you're ready.

What I won't do is "push you", or encourage you to "push yourself". 

Because that would violate your fundamental human right to freedom + autonomy and activate your threat response, reducing your ability to learn and grow optimally. It would violate the trust between us and compromise the safety you feel in relationship with me.  It wouldn't teach you how strong and resilient you are. Worst case it would push you over the edge even if I didn't intend it to. Best case you would find a way to manage but you'd also learn that performing for the adult gaze of white supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism (which demand all people perform to their harmful standards), is more important than your well-being.

It's okay to ask for help, to take a break, and even to quit. 

I believe in you. I believe you can do hard things. 


So no. I won't "push" my kids. And I won't encourage them to "push themselves", even when I think they look like they could 'take it' or society says they ought to be able to. 

But l will believe in their humanity, in their ability to do hard things, in their drive to learn and grow, and in their drive to participate meaningfully in their community.  I will trust them to grow in their own time and their own way, with my support not my control. 

References, Resources, & Recommended Reading

Raising Our Children Raising Ourselves - Naomi Aldort (book)

The Most Fundamental Right Is The Right To Quit - Peter Grey (article)

Rest Is Resistence - Tricia Hersey (book)

All About Love - bell hooks (book)

See No Stranger - Valerie Kaur (book)

Punished by Rewards - Alfie Kohn (book)

Parenting Beyond Power - Jen Lumanlan (book)

Raising Free People - Akilah S. Richards (book)

Authoritarian vs Authoritative Parenting - Psychology Today (article)

Raffi Foundation For Child Honoring (website)

UN Rights of the Child (website)

White Supremacy Culture (website)



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