I Treat My Kids as Equals

Toca Writer Dana Villamagna on her childist approach to parenting.

Parker Barry

When my first child arrived, I was clueless. As the last born in my family, there were no younger siblings for me to help care for and I didn’t have babysitting jobs as a teen. By the time I became a mom, I may have had a master’s degree but I was a complete novice when it came to kids.

My lack of maternal mastery had one big benefit: Since I knew I didn’t know what to do, I realized baby Olivia and I needed to team up on this journey. I read books about child development and watched her cues to confirm what worked and what didn’t fit her personality and needs. Even as a baby, she began to tune into my emotions and my needs, too. As she grew, so too did my belief that the best way to parent her was to partner with her.

Two more kids and 16 years later, this egalitarian approach has made my parenting easier, their childhoods more empowered and our relationships stronger. For example:

  • They choose. Unless safety trumps, they typically decide things for themselves. Sure, this meant one of my daughters wore the same floor-length black velvet skirt almost every day for months. And my son’s hair is often much longer than I’d prefer, but it’s not my hair. Developing a sense of agency is a critical life resource; through choices, kids learn what they want and know they can make things happen.
  • All questions are welcome. Many adults have disapprovingly told me that a kid who asks “too many questions” is being disrespectful. But countless times my kids’ questions have helped me re-think my opinion on an issue or make a better decision.
  • I apologize often. I admit when I make a mistake, I’m too harsh or I’m unnecessarily judgmental. Apologizing for my shortcomings shows that I don’t expect my kids to be perfect people, either, nor should they expect me to be an omnipotent authority figure. Parents are people, too!
  • Gratitude’s essential. Small affections like a card in their lunchbox or a sincere “Thanks” for an extra hug on a tough day celebrate each of my kid’s unique gifts and contributions.

The equality approach to parenting is a simple matter of mindset. Through the past 16 years, I may have run into some static from other adults for this counterculture style, but the immense benefits have far outweighed the critical chatter. For that, I once again give thanks to my kids.


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