Differences of opinion are part to any relationship, including those with our teen and young adult children. And sometimes ongoing arguments and emotional standoffs are symptoms of a struggle for power. Power dynamics in a relationship refers to the practices and perceptions regarding who has power and how that power is used. It’s about the level of influence or control one is able to exert over the other person’s actions and beliefs. The basic question is: Who’s steering the ship? And power struggles begin when one person isn’t ok with the answer to that question. If you’re raising teenagers, you’ve faced, at one time or another, a kid who is steadfastly contrary or defiant. They say ‘black’ when you say ‘white’ and will defend their opinion, no matter what, until the end of time. They get into trouble. You approach the problem calmly, sharing the benefit of your wisdom and years of experience. While you think you’re being sensible and helpful and enlightening your kid’s perspective, they perceive your ‘help’ as an attempt to control what they do or how they think. Subconsciously, they feel a need to assert their power so they ignore your advice and carry on with what they were doing or they escalate the battle and get involved in even more dangerous activities Then you get frustrated because your mature, logical guidance is having no impact on their behaviour. You see your kid doing that same thing, being disobedient or spouting that same controversial viewpoint and it’s annoying or enraging. And while we’d all like to be able to shift in these moments and communicate from our heart-based consciousness… As a parenting coach, I know that this is hard to do.
We are beautifully complex beings, mélanges of inner parts that add up to our humanity and wholeness. Some of your parts may be buried and others may be running your show. Some may have conflicting agendas that bring your self-development to a standstill while others hamper your ability to express yourself. And some of them may be preventing you from having a strong connection with your big kid. One of the personality parts that you might be familiar with is the Fierce Dragon. You come home from work, where you’ve been even-tempered all day, or you get off the phone from a convivial talk with a friend, and then one little comment brings out the Fierce Dragon. It only takes a second and that ferocious part of you rises up, snapping, criticizing, commanding, refusing, blaming… In an instant, the Fierce Dragon is defending against an attack — an attack that never even happened. This may be a reaction to an ongoing power imbalance, real or perceived, between you and your child. Power struggles often arise from unprocessed hurts. And when there are feelings and words hovering just below the surface, there’s always the tension of the risk that they will be re-triggered. The Fierce Dragon will do everything in its power to protect you from feeling that buried pain.
When it comes to the contrary teenager, you may be interpreting your kid’s relentless defiance as their ‘win,’ which makes you feel like the loser and urges you to re-establish your personal power. We ALL want to feel our personal power and know that we can interact in the world in a way that meets our needs for safety, dignity, agency, community, autonomy and love. We ALL want to feel our ability to shine a light that matters in the world. We ALL want to be the authors of our own lives. And when that feels under attack, even if it isn’t, the Fierce Dragon steps in, not only to defend but also often to up the ante with threats and punishment. And when teenagers are committed to their strategy of being contrary, these don’t work either. They just raise the stakes in the power struggle. Your kid thinks, “They can’t make me do it” and they dig their trenches. They sense that they are “getting” to you and getting the upper hand in the battle for control. They feel more powerful. That’s the unwinnable pattern: each time you detect a diminishment or threat to your power, real or perceived, you metamorphose into the Fierce Dragon who is designed to regain what’s yours and keep your personal power intact. Your child feels that as a threat to their power so they naturally redouble their efforts. And on it goes, leading to pain and disconnection that takes months or years to repair.
And there’s another way. It’s the way of the Aikido Student, who transforms and redirects energy. This part of us leans into power, adjusts the definition of power and uses it to create connection. She sees power not as power over others but something purer and more precious within herself — The power to notice that anger is arising in you and let it flow through so as to not be overtaken and hand the scene over to the Fierce Dragon. The power to see through the fog and recognize the assumptions and emotions that are present. The power to pause and breathe and restore your equilibrium. The power to say, “No thanks” to the Fierce Dragon. “Your way doesn’t work for me.” The power to choose how you behave, in every moment, according to what’s most important to you and aligned with your true nature. This is the way of the inner Aikido Student, blending with the energy, turning, pivoting, circling. She recognizes real power and using its momentum in a different way.
Take a moment here to feel into this. How are you connecting to this metaphor? Can you sense it within you? In what ways do you already move like this?
Perhaps you recognize some aspects of the Aikido Student that you want to bring out in yourself. If so, here are some practices to choose from that can support you.
1 Meeting the Aikido Student in your Body Practice pivoting. In a wide area, perhaps your back yard, walk swiftly and directly toward something and then, on the spur of the moment, pivot and change direction without changing your pace. Continue for 2 full minutes. Don’t let you head take over with planning your next move. Instead, let your body do the pivoting right when the moment to do so arrives. Practice this for 12 days in a row and notice its effects. What sensations do you experience in and around your body when pivoting? What’s easier or more challenging for you and how does that change with repetition? What is your body learning?
2 Meeting the Aikido Student in your Mind
Free-write about power in your relationship with your young adult child.
Where do you see power dynamics between you two?
What’s openly expressed and what’s held beneath the surface?
When do you feel like you’re winning and what does part of you see as the prize?
When you sense that you’re losing, what do you perceive that you’ve lost and what have you actually lost?
What are your ideas and values about power balance in relationships?
What’s your next step in directing your energy in accordance with your values?
3 Meeting the Aikido Student in your Heart
Create a sweet ritual for yourself. Gather flowers, a poem or prayer, music, essential oils, crystals, pictures and your sacred objects and create your altar. Take your time… Light your candle, find your center and settle into the sacred space.
When you’re ready, call in your guides and gods and ask to be shown the aspects of the Aikido Student that lives in you. Then just breathe and stay open. You don’t need to say, imagine or expect anything. Wait and be willing to receive whatever gift comes to you perhaps an image, word, gesture, song, colour or a story, which may or may not make sense to you. Accept what appears and trust the divine wisdom it brings into your being.
Complete the ritual with gratitude and self-care.
Parenting is a sacred, uncharted journey of two souls, you and your child. And a crucible for the discovery and emergence of your beauty-full Self. Bright blessings as you walk this path.
With you on the journey,
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