We’ve talked about which battles are worth the fight and which aren’t. Some we want to be sure and win and some, we don’t mind losing. There is one major battle, though, that we should simply never get involved in. That is the battle for authority. By authority I don’t mean physical power or brute strength of opinion. I mean the authority that comes as a parent. The parents are the ones who decide the direction they want their families to take. Parents decide what is and what is not allowed in their home. Authority, when used properly, is not about being a dictator. It’s about being kind, loving, nurturing, and looking out for those who are under our care.
1. The person in charge never needs to prove it.
The principal doesn’t need to remind all the faculty members that he is the boss. They know it. They know that there is someone they must answer to and it is knowledge they simply carry with them throughout their days at work. Home should be the same. Parents value their children as individuals, and want to know their likes/dislikes and strengths. It is so fun to be able to oblige them and make them happy. But sometimes parents have to do things or require things that seem unpleasant. If they attempt to refuse, do not engage. If they don’t want to get in the car, pick them up and put them in the car. If they are too big for that, give them two choices. One being to get in the car and the other a logical consequence they will not like. We need not discuss, hem haw, go back and forth or bribe. If you have started to say “I’m your mother”or “I’m the parent here” then you know they are calling into question your authority and you need to get it back.
2. Engaging in this battle makes them feel the matter is up for debate.
There will be many decisions and choices that you will make together with your children. Vacations, activities, and maybe even the school where they will attend. There will also be many decisions that you make as a parent that your children may not like. If your children want to explain their feelings then that is great, please have that conversation. If they want to argue with you about why you are wrong or why they aren’t going to do something, don’t let it get started. If everyone has to get in the car to go to the airport or some important event, there is no need to discuss or debate. They get in the car. Period. Time for listening is not the minute before they’re expected to do something. If you start trying to argue or convince your children and you start to feel as though you are pleading with your kids to obey, then stop. Walk away. When you are calm and can channel the fact that you are the boss, go back and simply make it happen. I don’t mean with meanness either. Just gather them and begin the process.
3. Explaining is not the same as fighting a battle.
While it is not good to engage with our children in a “who’s the boss” battle, that doesn’t mean we aren’t supposed to listen to their feelings and desires. Because, you see, a conversation about someone’s feelings is not necessarily the same thing as a power struggle. In fact, children are far more likely to embrace your authority and trust you to make good decisions if they feel they have been listened to, and if you have given them a chance to express themselves. If they refuse to do something in outright disobedience, that is not acceptable. If they are questioning your instruction out of curiosity or concern, it’s a great idea to further explain it. Then, if their curiosity crosses over into outright defiance, conversation over.
4. Making them do it is sometimes okay.
I’ve read that it’s bad to make your children do anything since that is controlling and they are supposed to want to do what you ask of their own free will. I wonder if the people who write that actually have kids. Or maybe they have one child and that’s how they are able to bow to the will of that one person all day. If you have five and never require them to do anything they don’t want, well, they’ll soon kick you out. Unless you cook. Then they’ll keep you as their indentured servant. Now I totally agree it is far more effective to let natural consequences help your children make wise decisions. I also think that, when they are very young, a great way to explain the concept of disobedience and obedience is to make them carry out your request. If I ask my 18 month old to do something and he doesn’t, I go to him and get him started with the task. If I say “don’t cross the street” and he keeps walking that way, I go get him and physically move him. As they get older I believe the occasions where this is appropriate will lessen gradually. With my 2-year-old I’m able to issue an instruction and then, if she is wavering, tell her the consequences. Until the child is old enough to understand or to really grasp what you’re saying, I think it’s a good idea to “make” them do something by forcing their hand.
5. Remove the option for a struggle.
Some people hate confrontation and will do anything to avoid it. Some people love it and do not shy away from a chance to get into a good debate. While I can’t say I love confrontation I surely do not shy away from it nor am I scared to get into a good argument. Even if I’m wrong. It makes me feel alive. Let’s not dive into my issues here, but knowing where you stand is helpful. If you tend to want to “finish” the argument then that will get tricky with children who won’t let you win or who won’t listen to reason. I have found when a child gets argumentative and wants to beat you down (I’m not talking normal conversations here, but when they are being defiant and disobedient) an effective way to end the power struggle is to walk away. Walking away doesn’t mean they win. Walking away doesn’t mean you don’t know what you’re doing. Walking away says “when you are able to talk nicely and communicate kindly we will finish this conversation.” It also gives you space so you don’t say what you will later have to apologize for.
You are the parent. You are the leader in the house. While you may not feel as though you know everything you should, you surely know more than your children. The ultimate reason we need our children to respect our authority is so we can effectively protect them. We need them to learn that we have their best interests at heart.
I read a story once in a Focus on the Family book about a kid who had major pain in his ear. Turned out he had a scab there causing a lot of pain and the doctor needed to peel it off to let the ear heal. The doctor needed the father to hold the child down so he could use the instrument to pull off the scab without hurting the child’s ear. As the father was holding his son down and the doctor was performing this very painful procedure on the child the parent was broken. Who wants to cause their children pain? Who wants their children to think they don’t mind them being hurt. No one! However, we parents can take an aerial view that our children cannot and this is why we need to have a loving responsive relationship with them. And one in which they can feel secure because they know the buck stops with us.