Parenting With Authority

For me, writing a blog has been an interesting window into my own brain. It turns out I think very tangentially. Who knew? (Husbands are not invited to answer).

Every post I start writing makes me think of three others I ought to do alongside, or before, or instead of, the one I'm working on.

But the one that comes up most often is this one. Because it's the most fundamental to the life we are able to live with our children. It is the crux of our parenting style. It means that taking our kids to Mass, and the grocery store, and Europe is, more often than not, pretty enjoyable (rather than the rolling disaster that people expect when we tell them our plans).

It allows me to homeschool, and take afternoon naps. It gets our chores done. It has created for us a very happy home.

From our trip to Rome. I think Our Lady looks particularly authoritative here, don't you?

Our first baby was born while the husband was in business school. We lived on campus in family housing, in a circle of little townhouses with a big shared backyard/park in the center. There were maybe 30 townhouses, each with a parent or parents and child or children living within.

As I discussed here, when I had my son, I had little to no experience with babies or children. I have just one sister, and we grew up without cousins in town, or really even any friends with babies or little kids in their families. So everything I knew about raising children I knew from parenting books and sitcoms.

But here I was, with a sliding glass door that opened right into all these different parenting styles. There was the single mom of a son, who insisted that she wasn't going to saddle him with gender-stereotyped parenting (he dumped the baby doll out of his stroller, folded it up, and immediately started whacking the nearest tree with his stroller-sword). There was the family from Germany with two little girls who were quickly denuded anytime there was water present. There was the little prince, a boy with a mother AND a grandmother to fawn over his every achievement and pretty much ignore his sister. There were Catholics and Protestants and Mormons and Muslims and atheists. There were big families and little families. And there was the saddest little girl I've ever met.

Her mother was a very giving person, and clearly loved her daughter and meant well, but she refused to exert any authority over her at all. The daughter was 2 or 3 years old, and she was always given choices, never commands.

Anytime her mother did tell her something, it was always followed by an "okay?" In order to avoid the little girl feeling slighted in favor of another child, the mother always bought two of whatever gift they brought to a birthday party. One was to give to the birthday girl, and one was for her daughter to keep at home.

Jack at a princess party. Sad girl not pictured.

This mother's days were lived at the whims of a small child, and I have never seen anyone as unhappy as the two of them. All the girl had to do to get her way was to throw a fit, and, as she liked to get her way, she threw fits all the time. Over ridiculous things like not being able to ride two tricycles at the same time, or other children being allowed on the swings.

I was able to contrast that parenting style with the one used by an Army officer classmate of the husband's. He and his wife had their fourth the same year my first was born. They ran their home with love and rules and their children were helpful and HAPPY.

The child who never got punished for anything would stand in the sandbox screaming about how unfair the world was because other children were allowed to own their own sand toys, but the first and second grade boys who were made to bring any candy they received home in their pockets so they could put it in their Saturday Treat Box would come by my house of their own accord to see if I would like them to take my baby for a walk so I could have a little rest.

I could not refute the evidence that was right there before my eyes. I know that there are many ways to parent successfully. I don't claim that my way is the only way. But I will tell you that it works for us.

I like to focus on the idea of authority rather than discipline. Although, of course, discipline (and even punishment) is involved. I prefer to think of "disciplined" as something YOU ARE rather than something that happens to you. My end goal is that my children's discipline would come from within themselves, rather than from me. It is my hope that they do as I ask without the need for punishment. In order to make that happen I need to be able to inspire their obedience by my authority.

Our authority as parents is given to us by God. It is a gift and an obligation. Whether by gestation or adoption, God gave
that child to US. On purpose.

Children should be obedient to their parents not because we are bigger, or stronger, or smarter, but because that's the way God made it. Even Jesus was "subject" to his mother and earthly father (Luke 2:51). Not because they had earned it but because, as his parents, they were in a position of authority over him. Our children have learned to subjugate their desires not because of any sort of preternatural goodness, but out of obedience. If we insist that they learn this lesson with small things now, they will be able to apply it to big things later.

That's my baby doing the bullying. Poor Timmy.

I read this quote in the Catechism on the day I began writing this post:

That man is rightly called a king who makes his own body an obedient subject and, by governing himself with suitable rigor, refuses to let his passions breed rebellion in his soul, for he exercises a kind of royal power over himself. And because he knows how to rule his own person as king, so too does he sit as its judge. He will not let himself be imprisoned by sin, or thrown headlong into wickedness.

St. Ambrose, Psal. 118:14:30:PL 15:1476.

Thanks St. Ambrose. That pretty much sums it up.

When Gus was a toddler, all he wanted in the whole world was to touch the TV. But, in this house, that's not allowed. I would tell him not to touch the TV, he would touch the TV, he would incur a punishment. Repeat. But eventually, he got
it. I will never forget the day I spied him through the doorway, standing in front of the TV, reaching his pudgy little hand forward, then pulling it back.

Clearly, he was waging a tiny internal battle, between his shoulder angel and his shoulder devil. And finally, he stamped his foot and turned and walked away.

Success! And if he was able to subjugate that desire, and overcome that tiny 1 1/2 year old temptation, won't he be in a much better position to resist the bigger temptations of future years?

Instead, I could have distracted him from his desire to touch the TV and redirected his attention to something that he was allowed to touch. That would certainly have achieved my goal of not having him touch the TV at that moment. But he would have lost that small opportunity to "rule his own person as a king." So that's WHY I parent with authority. If you'd like to know HOW I do it, check back on Thursday.