Managing authority


How well do you manage your authority over your children? Do other people think you’re too strict? Too permissive? Do you bribe or threaten your way out of bad behavior?

“Let’s face it, authority has been a struggle for humankind from Cain and Abel to Bonnie and Clyde. Children struggle with it from birth, and as we grow older, the struggles just grow,” (On Becoming Childwise).

Despite our struggles with authority, we cannot parent our children without it. We cannot teach them the ways of the world without it. We cannot coexist peacefully without it. How we handle authority sets the tone for our parenting.

“Everybody has an idea for handling authority: diversion, persuasion, surrender, bribery, pleading,” (On Becoming Childwise).

We must be strong enough to take a position of authority even when other people think we are too strict.

“For many people, authority has taken on a derogatory flavor. We almost feel like we have to apologize when we use it. … [But] authority is a necessary positive. Until man can order his own affairs, until he ceases to prey on his brothers, he will need someone to maintain order. This is critical for children. The proper use of authority, whether it be parental leadership in the home or civic government, is not restraint, but liberation,” (On Becoming Childwise).

This idea that authority brings freedom and comfort echoes what I said in my last post about the cadre in French parenting.

Despite this clear need for authority, we must be sure to find the right balance:

“The parent who controls too little and the parent who controls too much both reflect misconceptions and false antagonism that have misguided today’s parents. Though both approaches are attempts to produce conscientious, responsible children, they are extremes which apply improper use of authority,” (On Becoming Childwise).

We should take a step back and decide where our authority lies in the spectrum.

“Sadly, many parents live at one of these unwise poles. The over-authoritarian parent may employ highly punitive and sometimes abusive practices which come with strict rules and heavy-handed punishment. The problem here is not the exercise of authority, as some believe, but the excessive and wrongful use of authority,” (On Becoming Childwise).

Every time we exert authority over our children, we should question our reason for doing so. Yes, authority is required, but it should be used to protect the health, safety and morality of our children. If it is used for our own convenience or ego, the authority has been abused.

This line between healthy and abusive authority can be easily blurred. Holding a young child’s hand while crossing the street is a clear use of healthy authority. Making that same child sit in the shopping cart at the grocery store may be an unnecessary use of authority. Perhaps the child is responsible enough to handle the freedom of not sitting in the cart. And at the far end of the extreme, using our authority to require a child spend his Saturday mowing the lawn, doing the dishes, folding the laundry, pulling weeds and fetching us a glass of water is an abuse of authority.

Make sure every use of your authority is done in the name of helping the child become a better person. If it doesn’t promote health, safety or morality, let your authority relax and let the child be a child. 


  1. Christine Moorefield says:

    Thanks! I needed this this morning. Perfect timing.

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