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Leadership and Authority in Parenting. When and how to use authority and when to use leadership in parenting. Sometimes you let the child decide and sometimes you decide.
A current “fad” in parenting is to let the child set the pace. Let the child decide what he wants to do and when he wants to do it. What he wants to eat and when and where he wants to eat it. Who he needs to listen to and when he needs to listen. Parents don’t want to suppress their children. They want them to explore and blossom. In order to allow their children to reach that potential, they remove their own parental leadership and authority form the picture.
It isn’t as though these parents are wishing bad things for their children. They want the best for the children and think this free exploration and lack of parental direction is the way to get there. It really isn’t.
This brings us to Childwise Principle #2: Use the strength of your leadership early on and the strength of your relationship later (affiliate link: On Becoming Childwise, page 50).
“Authority is a necessary positive” (affiliate link: On Becoming Childwise, page 46). This reminds me of the idea of agency and consequences. There are many laws that surround us. We have laws of our land (government). We have moral laws. We have religious laws. We have personal laws.
The current fad in parenting is that any and all laws inflicted upon your children are going to hinder your children. But at some point, your child is going to have to accept authority. Your child is going to have to obey the laws of the land. Your 17 year old will not be well-received if he insists to the cop that he is infringing upon his potential for writing him a speeding ticket. There are laws, and there are consequences for those laws. Good consequences and bad consequences.
Take a law that says you may not drive your vehicle while intoxicated. Some people might find that a violation of their personal rights. In reality it frees them. If they follow that law, they will not have the risk of killing others in an accident. They are free from that awful consequence. They are also free from fines and jail time that might come if caught. You do your children no favors to remove consequences and authority figures from their lives. The consequences, big or small, will get them some day.
Authority is a difficult thing. Many people abuse authority once they receive it. It is easy to get a big head and feel very important once you are in a position of authority. And as I have talked about, some people really shy away from authority. It is a lot of responsibility. You can’t always be the nice guy when you are in a position of authority. Just take a look at the position of the President of the United States. I honestly don’t understand why anyone would seek that job. No matter your party affiliation, in our modern times you are likely to be greatly disliked (if not hated) by at least 50% of the population in the US, not to mention the rest of the world. Positions of authority are often lonely.
Just as it is inappropriate to refuse to have any authority over your children, it is inappropriate to insist upon too much authority. I think that most followers of Babywise principles are going to lean more toward this side of the spectrum than the other. Few if any Babywise moms are going to have a complete lack of leadership and authority over their children. So for most of us, we really need to watch ourselves and our use of authority. We might not allow appropriate freedoms at the appropriate times. We might hover and discipline every little mis-step and overreact to accidents.
However, there are some facets of the lack of authority parents we can find among ourselves. One thing I think is easy for any modern parent to do is overindulge. Our current generation of parents do not want their children to want. We want to provide every great toy out there. We want our children to experience every activity and have every advantage. I know my husband and I can be guilty of this at times. This giving of everything is exhibiting a lack of authority and leadership.
Another thing is sometimes we choose to not discipline and tolerate disobedience. We first let little things slide. It can be exhausting to keep up on it all. Sometimes it is easier to just look the other way.
We also might work really hard to make sure our children are never sad or disappointed. This is along the lines of overindulgence. We want to keep our word to our children (which is a good thing) but will sometimes do it at the expense of other children. Take my good friend. The other day she was at the park with her three children and her sister’s kids. Her two year old was very sick. But she had promised her sister’s kids they would go to the park that day and didn’t want to disappoint. Sometimes in life, circumstances come up that are beyond our control that prevent us from doing things we might like to. This happens. Don’t be afraid for your children to learn that. It will happen as adults, so they need to learn to deal with those emotions.
When to Exert Parental Authority
This topic is discussed in Chapter Three of On Becoming Childwise (Get your copy of Childwise here (affiliate link). It states that parents have the right to insist upon conformity and compliance, and especially in these three areas:
- Health and Safety
- Life Skills
Through morality, you teach your child things like how to share and be kind to “their neighbor”. If your child does something wrong (intentionally or unintentionally), you lead, guide, encourage, correct and right those wrongs.
Health and Safety
You insist upon vegetables being eaten. You make sure he brushes his teeth. You don’t leave the driveway until he is all buckled in. You make sure he takes a bath. You don’t allow him to play with or on dangerous things. You insist upon conformity and compliance in these areas.
You teach your child how to help around the house. You insist he cleans up his toys when he is done playing with them. If he is involved in lessons of any kind, you make sure he practices as necessary. You teach your child to be responsible and respectful to those he is in contact with. His future wife will thank you 🙂 My husband’s mother had three daughters and one son. Many moms likely would have had the daughters do all the cleaning and let her son go do “guy” stuff. Not her. She insisted he clean also. She says he was her best cleaner. He learned how to do it all. While he still has his things that can get to me if I let them, he is an amazing help around the house. She taught him well how to work in the house, his father taught him well how to work outside the house (in the yard, garage, and at work), and his mom enforced his piano practicing every day for many, many years (which I love as a singer). He doesn’t regret any of that, and neither do I.
How to Use Authority/Leadership Properly
So now we are all aware that we need to use it, but not abuse it. How do you do that? Childwise Principle #2: Use the strength of your leadership early on and the strength of your relationship later (On Becoming Childwise, page 50). With your younger children, you lead by the power of your authority. With older children, you lead by the power of your influence (Childwise, page 50). If you are doing things correctly, as your child gets older, you should need to use your parental authority less. Note that the authority doesn’t decrease, just the coercive use of the authority.
Look back over the life of your child thus far. As a newborn, you decided everything. You decided what activities were done and when. As your child has gotten older, more decisions have been made by him. “The decreased need for parental authority is proportionate to the increased amounts of age-appropriate, self-imposed controls” (Childwise, page 51). As your child demonstrates the ability to be responsible and handle these freedoms, you grant them.
Are the principles of Babywise and up time consuming? Yes. Implementing the principles require a lot of work and discipline on the part of the parents. With the Babywise program, a lot of work is put in the early years. One mom recently put it that the more work you put in the beginning, the less work you have in the future. As you look back over the life of your pre–schooler to this point, you will find it to be true. I look at something like independent play with Brayden. A lot of work to get started. But now he has it and loves it. It is no work for me. At this point he practically puts himself in independent play. He cleans up 70-90% of his toys all on his own each day (sometimes even 100%). He looks at the clock and knows when it is time to start and time to stop.
As you put the effort in now, you can really enjoy your child as he gets older. You can be friends and not warring generals. I will write more on the idea of friend vs. parent tomorrow. Just know that your effort now is all worth it. It brings huge rewards in the future. The work does pay off.
- Four Phases of Parenting (Childwise)
- childwise (blog label)
- parenting (blog label)
- Avoid Legalism
- Evaluating and Teaching Context
- How to Teach Respect for Personal Property
- It Starts With You
- Moral Training: Love
- The Golden Rule (and the Platinum Rule)
- Other People Count
- Teach What is Right, Not Just What is Wrong
- Teach “Why”
- What vs. How of Character Training