Monday, February 13, 2017

Who's in Charge?

It never fails to surprise me when I hear parents say, "He didn't want to," or "She didn't feel like it." Not that I'm cold and uncaring about my children's feelings, but often I hear these words about children following through on a commitment or a chore or even schoolwork. And I think: Who's in charge here?

Too often, it's the child, not the parent.

I sometimes even catch myself doing it. Letting my child dictate his or her own actions when really, I should push back more. I should stick to my word better. I know this, and still I fall short.

However, I often wonder if other parents are aware of this (not all parents, of course, just some who seem to get run over by their children.

As a family counselor of troubled teens, I saw this constantly. Parents who let children dictate their own lives (and sometimes the parents' too!). Then the parent would generally throw their hands up in the air in wonder when things went haywire or their child rebelled.

Now, it was a whole lot easier for me to dole out parenting advice before I actually became one. I had no idea how my emotions would become so entangled in my parenting. That even though I know the right thing to do most of the time (certainly not all the time!), I don't always do it because I'm tired or frustrated or distracted or just plain weak.

Nevertheless, I try to keep in the forefront of my mind that I am the one ultimately in charge. I have authority over my child and his/her life. This doesn't mean that I dictate every decision my child makes. There has to be balance and children have to be able to make decisions to become responsible, independent adults. They learn to make small decisions when they are small and best handle bigger decisions as they grow bigger. Yet still, they are not in control of their lives. They should be in control of some decisions, but not their entire lives. Not until they're ready to be fully responsible for their entire lives.

Yet many parents don't embrace their rightful place as having authority. We have swung the pendulum of parenting from authoritarian (rules rule the roost) to permissive (rules?), neither which is best for a child or the family as a whole. Instead, authoritative parenting has proven to be the most effective time and time again. That means the parent is in charge (i.e. holds the authority), but engages the child in love, life, and some autonomy in decisions.

So how do we put this into practice? 

First, we as parents must recognize that we are in charge, and we are in charge for a reason. Think how much more you know about life than you did when you were five or ten or fifteen. You have life, experience, and a wealth of information to pull from. Your child has very little of each of these.

Second, we have to realize that discipline is a form of love and children grow up much more healthier with balanced boundaries. Letting them have their way or tell you what they are or are not going to do (not little things, but bigger things like follow through on a commitment, go to a family function, follow family rules, etc.) creates a self-centered, selfish, and often very immature adult.

Third, we should remember that most battles are short lived. Now, I have two strong-willed children, so I know what it means to say no to the same questions a dozen times a day for months on end. But they eventually get it. I also have seen that most times a child gets upset with boundaries being set and held to, they will recover pretty quickly. Even if it's a day or two, it will be much better in the long run to hold on to your word. Even if it's a week or two, or a month or two (the times seem to often get longer as they get older). All we have to do is outlast them - most of the time. (None of us are capable of holding on ALL the time!)

So, the next time your child tells you "no" to something that really matters or something that they committed to or something that you need to stick to just because you already let it fly out of your mouth, remember that you are in charge for a reason - and that reason is because you know best for your child, love them, and want them to grow up to be healthy, balanced, caring individuals. 

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