Who’s in Charge? Putting Authority Back into the Hands of Parents

I once had a parent of a two-year-old come to daycare holding a penny (which was not allowed because it is a choking hazard).  

Her mother’s excuse? “I just couldn’t get it away from her.”  

This is an example of a child being given authority over their parent.  

I saw this countless times throughout my time as a daycare teacher. There is no reality in which a perfectly capable mother cannot retrieve a small item from the hand of their preschooler.  But sometimes parents put authority in the hands of their children without realizing what they’re doing, and the impact it can have on their relationship with that child. 

Now, let’s be clear about what I’m talking about. There is a difference between empowering children to independence and giving children authority over parents.  

Empowering children to independence means helping them learn to do things for themselves and become successful. Giving children authority over parents is when the natural order of things is reversed, which puts the children at risk.  

Children having authority over parents is not healthy, and It’s not safe. Parents are in place to help children learn. Authority is required in order to be a good teacher, and a good parent.  

There are several ways in which parents inadvertently put the authority in their children’s hands, in the process undermining their own parental authority over their children. Here are some examples.  

Failing to follow through with discipline 

This is a big one that we all know about, but still slip up on all the time. It’s hard work following through with every consequence we lay out! But when we fail to administer consequences for stated disobediences, we forfeit our own authority. Our failure to act tells children that we do not have the power to do what we say we will.  

Part of maintaining parental authority is disciplining children. It’s not the fun part, but it is necessary to guide children into becoming successful adults.  

Here are three simple ways to help you maintain consistency.  

  1. Keep accountable with your spouse 

Your spouse is your absolute best resource when it comes to following through with discipline. You both need to be on the same page (yes, this can be difficult when one of you tends to be more permissive and the other more authoritarian!). Hold each other accountable to following through with your word and administering appropriate consequences when necessary.  

  1. Don’t make a lot of rules 

This is easier said than done, I know. It often seems like when children are misbehaving, the solution is to make a rule for each thing they do wrong and then set consequences for it. The problem is, you can’t remember all of the rules and consequences and neither can they! If your children can’t remember the rules because there are so many, how can they be expected to follow them?  

Make it easier on yourself and on them. Pick out the behaviors which need to be worked on the most and set easy-to-understand consequences for negative behavior. Then follow through with them. As the behaviors are extinguished, you can move on to a different problem.  

Figure out which behaviors really deserve discipline and which ones are just children being children. For instance, disrespectful back-talking and hitting can be put in the “require discipline” category, while taking off their shoes in public and forgetting to use a spoon at mealtime can be chalked up to their age. They can be reminded to keep their shoes on and use a spoon, but it probably doesn’t require a time out every time they forget.  

[see my full post on making rules that will actually be followed here]

  1. Don’t make threats you won’t keep 

Don’t say you’re going to throw all your children’s toys away if they leave them out in the living room one more time. You know you won’t actually follow through with it (I hope you won’t! That’s a little extreme). Instead, when you assign consequences for a behavior, make sure that the punishment fits the behavior. That way, when you warn them what will happen if the behavior continues, you can be truthful.  

Never letting them cry 

I know I’m going to get backlash about this one. But hear me out.  

Never letting a child cry is not fair to them. It prevents them from experiencing and dealing with emotions that they need to learn to deal with. But how does it undermine parental authority? 

Simple. The only way you are never letting a child cry is if you are catering to their every whim. Which makes you that child’s servant, not their parent. They hold the authority, not you.  

Children will test boundaries. They will see how far they can get with you. Of course they are going to ask for the ice cream cone. Will they cry when they don’t get it? Probably. And yes, it can be hard to see those big brown eyes well up with tears and see that pouty little lip start to tremble. But it isn’t healthy for children to have everything they want.  

As a parent, you have to accept that sometimes children have to cry in order to learn life lessons. Your job as a parent is to guide them, and you can’t do that if they are the ones with the authority in your relationship.  

Allowing slow obedience 

My father used to say “Slow obedience is disobedience”. Obviously as a child I never liked that phrase, because it called out exactly what I was doing. Rebelling.  

I didn’t want to be punished, but I also didn’t want to do exactly what I was being told. The solution? Slow obedience.  

Here are some examples of slow obedience that I see parents accept and put up with all of the time: 

“After I finish this game/episode/chapter.” 

“I’ll do it later/tomorrow/next year.”  

Doing a myriad of other things, or purposefully getting distracted before doing what the parent asked.   

It’s all very well to ask politely “May I get to a stopping point in my book, and then clean my room?” That is acknowledging the parents authority to decide. But when a child decides the terms upon which they obey, that is taking authority away from you as a parent.   

Slow obedience is disobedience, and it needs to be treated as such because you are in charge – not your children.  

Tolerating laziness 

This one is tough. It just kind of sneaks in.  

One minute you’re assigning chores; the next you find yourself picking up after a tornado ran through the house.  

You already know that teaching children responsibility is an important life skill. But have you considered that when you fail to enforce responsibility in children, you are compromising your own authority as a parent? You are telling children that they can make a mess and you will clean it for them. Or they can slack off on their schoolwork and you will make excuses for them.  

That puts them in charge and you are at their beck and call.  

Putting in the extra effort in the short term to teach children what is their responsibility to get done, increasing those responsibilities as they get older and more capable, will save you a lot of hassle in the long run.  

Not only will they learn how to take care of themselves, but they will also learn to respect the assignments you give them. That means less work for you! Hurray!  

Ignoring disrespect 

I honestly don’t understand how parents tolerate this. You have been given authority by God over your children. Allowing them to talk disrespectfully, or act insolently towards you is just wrong.  

This includes but is not limited to: backtalk, bossiness, rudeness, hitting, kicking, spitting, willful disobedience, name calling, and the silent treatment.  

When you ignore your child’s disrespect towards you, you are in essence giving them permission to trample on your rights as a parent.  

“Honour your father and mother” is one of the Ten Commandments. Help children learn respect for authority by starting in the home. 

But respect isn’t just the responsibility of the children. 1 Timothy 3:4 talks about managing one’s home and children in a way that is worthy of respect. I believe that children owe respect to their parents simply because it is the right thing to do. However, you make their job so much easier when you behave in a way that is worthy of respect. 

 

Who's in Charge? 5 way you may be compromising your own authority as a parent. | Mom but not a Mom 

What do you think it means to behave in a manner worthy of respect?  

What are some other ways that we compromise authority as parents? How can we get it back?

Who's in Charge? Sometimes we give away our parental authority in ways we don't even realize! It's time to put that authority back into the hands of parents and get that healthy parent-child relationship on track. | Mom but not a Mom

12 thoughts on “Who’s in Charge? Putting Authority Back into the Hands of Parents

  1. Hi Dawn,
    your article is very interesting and I feel like you are reading my mind 🙂 I face these very same problems every day. But my biggest problem is, I don’t know how to change things? It would be very helpful that you give not only examples but solutions. For example, what do I do when my son (6) is shouting at me and talks back, or hits his sister? Or about my daughter’s (8) VERY slow obedience?
    I just stand there and I am thinking what can I possibly do? What would be a good consequence. And I can not come up with one 🙁
    We have come to the point where my kids do not listen to me unless I am already shouting at them. Until then I am completely ignored.. and I hate shouting. I have to beg them to do everything. They talk back to me.. they fight and hurt eachother. I feel like I am such a bad Mom..
    I would greatly appreciate your help.
    Thanks a million!
    Krisztina

    1. Great questions Krisztina! It seems like every parent nowadays has a different policy on discipline, so without knowing exactly your feelings on things like spankings or timeout, I can’t be quite as specific. I would say the most important thing is consistency. Of course it’s easier to start a habit when the kids are very young, and more difficult to change their behavior once they’re older. But it can definitely be done!
      1) Set expectations, and go over them frequently. I wrote about not giving too many rules at one time because then they become difficult to remember and follow through on. Start with the things that bother you the most. Your daughter’s slow obedience, for instance. Or your son’s disrespect. Explain to them what will happen (pick a consequence) when they exhibit that behavior. Remind them frequently, especially in situations where they might be more likely to show that particular behavior.
      2) Explain why the behavior needs to stop. Nobody likes following meaningless rules. Children don’t always inherently understand why we set the rules that we do. Help them to understand your reasoning so they have a motivation besides fear of punishment.
      3) Follow through. This is the difficult part. We like to sometimes make excuses like “They’re tired” or “They’re hungry”. But children rely on consistency, and when we don’t follow through with the consequences we talked to them about, they no longer expect those consequences to happen. Therefore they have no reason to extinguish their negative behavior.
      4) Reward positive behavior. A reward for a child doesn’t have to be a trip to the ice cream parlor. Children crave attention. Let your daughter know how proud it makes you when she follows directions the first time, without being told twice. Tell your son how much you love hearing him talk in that kind, respectful tone.
      5) Stick with it. Sometimes you see results all at once in parenting. Most of the time, it takes a little while. Don’t give up trying just because the first two weeks didn’t yield the results you hoped for. It takes a long time to break bad habits, and even longer to form new ones. Keep at it and I guarantee, you WILL see a change.

      Hope this helps!! You’ll have to let me know in the future. 🙂

      PS: You are NOT a bad mom. The fact that you are reading blogs about how to be a better parent already tells me you are a great mom who cares a lot about her children and wants to be the best parent she can possibly be to help them succeed in life. Keep it up.

    2. Hello,

      In my experience I found that talking directly to then does wonders. I have 3 kids and my son has been diagnosed with ADHD and OCD and when I tell him to wake up in the morning he tells me he is awake and by the time I get ready and go to his room he is sleeping again soundly. I start to yell and everyone in the house starts the day angry, frustrated, and anxious. I started taking time for myself, I go to the gym every morning, I have a glass of wine in the evening sometimes and read my book for a few minutes without thinking of the mess, dinner, or anything at all. My husband and I help each other when it comes to cooking and we always try to have dinner together as a family when there is time. What I found that works for me is giving the kids undivided attention and love. With out busy schedules sometimes is very hard to do that and we find ourselves shouting and this makes everyone upset. This morning particularly, My son did not wake up when I told him, I put an alarm in his room and he woke up on his own and got dressed, brushed his teeth and the morning started amazing. I went to the gym for about 45 minutes and came back home to get ready for work and get the kids ready for school. My little one(3years old) has an obsession with baby big mouth youtube channel and she throws temper tantrums every time she wants to watch it. Today she started but I did not allow it, I was firm but sweet to her and she did not repeat it. My older daughter is always postponing her chores but when I give her a lot of undivided attention she tends to listen more. I wanted my son to put his shoes on today and before I will usually repeat it 20 times before I start yelling. Today I asked him once and I noticed he was busy playing playstation and he was not paying attention to what I was saying. I call his name and when he looked at me I repeated to him go and put on your shoes. He did it with no problems. Before I had to get out of the house I usually have to yell at them to get them to do what I need them to do and today I told my son, time to turn off the playstation and go to school and I looked directly to his eyes and he listened. Sometimes they just want that attention even when is bad attention.
      My advice:
      1. Take time for yourself even if its 5 minutes a day
      2. Undivided attention
      3. Talk directly to them and make sure they are looking at you and listening

  2. How can a parent change this when there are more adults trying to give authority over the child? ( living with relatives)

    1. Hi Priscilla! Ugh, that’s really tough. Unfortunately, it seems that every time you get a group of adults together, there are a few people in there who are sure they know better than you what’s good for YOUR child. That can make it difficult to stick to your preferred methods of parenting.

      I think the best thing to do would just be to communicate to everyone that you have a goal to achieve with YOUR child. Explain why you’re doing what you’re doing, and what they can do to help you achieve your goal.

      The reality is, they might not all be on board. But you’ll probably get better results from clear communication.

      Good luck! I hope things work out for you!

  3. So, my daughter is very disrespectful and I cannot tolerate it. I am at a point where I have tried time out and she runs and hits and behaves horrible, I’ve tried quietly speaking with her, asking her not to, taking things away and even spanking her which led to her believing hitting was okay, which is not. I’m at my wits end with this and have no back up at home it is her and I. She is four. I am asking for advice. What is a good discipline action that will stop her disrespectful attitude towards me? She manipulates me when I try empathy, and uses it to her advantage. I’m scared she has me wrapped around her finger because I love her and want to believe that she sincerely won’t do it again. But when I ask for her to stop certain actions she runs, yells, screaming saying she doesn’t care, hits and makes bed time a long-lasting fight which ends up allowing her up longer like she wishes. Her life has been rough the last two years with changes but I cannot allow her to continue this. I want to stand up to her but I don’t know that appropriate action that is not too over the top but will get her attention (something she actually cares about) I have had to seriously sat on her chest and held her down to stop running around the house hurting herself. Any advice helps. Thanks

    1. I’m so sorry, Stephanie. 🙁 That sounds like a tough situation. I can tell you really care about your daughter and want the best for her.

      First of all, I would like to say two things to help put the situation in perspective. 1) You are not the only parent going through this. I’ve talked to other parents and met other kids with similar situations going on. Which is why I know that 2) it’s not going to last.

      So take a deep breath. This is temporary. Kids push boundaries to find out where they are. Your job as a parent is to let them know. It may seem counterintuitive, but kids actually don’t feel safe without boundaries. I bet you’ve met someone whose parents didn’t enforce rules or discipline and they probably aren’t better off for it.

      The key here is consistency – even when it feels like a losing battle. Your daughter needs to know that you are going to stick to your guns. When you tell her something is off limits, it’s off limits.

      I can give you ideas for discipline and consequences, but honestly, I think the issue is simpler than that. It sounds like you’ve tried a lot of things and didn’t get immediate results. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t working.

      Some children are more stubborn than others, and it will take longer for them to adjust to a rule or expectation. Continue enforcing it, and continue to expect that they will fall in line. It can be exhausting – I know.

      You mentioned that bedtime is particularly difficult, because she wants to stay up later and fights you about it. I recently read an article about making bedtime special. Maybe bedtime can be “mommy-and-me” time, where you snuggle up and read a book. Maybe you spend ten minutes playing with her favourite toy together. Maybe you pat her back and sing her a couple of songs. The goal is to make bedtime something she looks forward to every night, rather than something she dreads.

      I realize I may not have answered all your questions, so feel free to email me at dawn@mombutnotamom.com if you would like to discuss things a little more.

      Good luck with your daughter! Remember, she’ll pull through, just give it time. 🙂

  4. I just enjoyed reading this so much! I was a secondary education teacher before I decided to stay at home with my kiddos. It was unbelievable to me how many kids ran their households. I can imagine if we let littles get away with things like bringing a penny to school, it will be a lot harder to take away the cellphone when they are older. I remember saying to myself, “when I have kids, I will never do that” but now I have kids and its hard! Your post was a good reminder to stay consistent. I recently wrote a post on my blog about being in charge and consistent at bedtime. Sleep is important for children and sometimes they act out because they are not getting enough sleep. Thanks again for the great read and the reminders!

    1. Sounds like I need to go check out your post now! 🙂 Thanks for stopping by, and for your thoughtful comments.

  5. Hi, Dawn! I read your article. It had a lot of great advice in there. I have. 4 year old who was being pretty disrespectful and just point blank not listening. I had gotten to the point that I became that mother that I loathed, the screaming, yelling, spanking kind! It was awful. While we are still working on things around here, I finally found my consistency and boundaries. Another thing that I started with my daughter is praying every morning. Simple prayers asking God to help us through our day, to help remind mommy not to yell, to be kind and loving with my words and actions, and just in consequences handed out and for God to remind my daughter to be respectful and obey mommy and daddy, and if needed I might add in a reminder for a specific act. This has drastically helped. Now when my daughter starts to get angry she tells me she needs to go pray. She comes back in the room and she’s much better. I wanted her to know that mommy needs help being reminded too and I believe that has helped her. And of course I do believe in the power of prayer! Thanks!

    1. That’s so wonderful, Heather! I love it when little kids are active in their faith. Cute and inspiring at the same time.

      Thanks for sharing your story. I’m so glad you’ve found a system that works for your family. Sounds like you’re doing great. 🙂

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