Parenting with Authority

We were sitting on a bench at the park while our children ran all over the playset when my friend asked me, “Do you spank your children?”  It was a point blank question that required more than a “yes” or “no” answer.  {Of course, being a lover of words, it’s a rare moment when I think one word suffices as a response.}  What followed was a conversation about the roots of parenting and approaches we have seen in place in various families as well as what has worked in our own homes.


This daunting, joy-filled, amazing, crazy privilege of parenting another human being requires all our resources.  We enter ill-equipped {no matter how many manuals, books and blog posts we read ahead of time} and find as soon as we master one stage of life with our children, they outgrow it and throw us new curve balls.  Then the next child grows into that stage and approaches it entirely differently from the first!   It’s enough to keep you on your toes to say the least – better yet, it keeps us on our knees, seeking God’s power, wisdom and love as we influence little lives with our words and actions.

Before we had children, my husband and I would offer friends of ours a break by taking their children home with us after church.  Most people thought we were crazy.  I had a friend warn me that my husband would never want children of his own if we kept this up.  It was good fun for us – to take a child or two, or three to a park, skating, swimming in our pool or out to eat and then drop them off at their home when the afternoon was over.  A side-effect of this ministry was a false sense that we had this “how to work with children” thing down pat.

Baby feet

When we were trying to get pregnant with our first son, people would share their favorite parenting approach, telling us how it managed problems, gave them “control” over their children and assured their children would grow up making wise choices and following God.  It was tempting to ascribe to a given parenting method based on promises which sounded like an infomercial for hair gel – yet, in child rearing there is no money back guarantee.

As my husband and I observed various approaches, we noticed a spectrum of parenting styles.  Some parents were highly authoritarian.  With a goal of control, the fruit they sought in their children was obedience above all else.  On the other end of the spectrum were parents who were laid back and far less intrusive or directive.  Their goal was grace and freedom of choice for their children.  They wanted their children to feel loved and didn’t want to impose any restrictions which might make their child feel constrained.

We saw pitfalls on both ends.  Parents who clamped down with an iron hand often ended up with secretly rebellious children, or children who obeyed from a heart of fear.  We sometimes witnessed parents reveling in their power over their children with comments like, “Let them even try that, I’d beat them senseless.”  Families with a relaxed approach seemed to have no control over their children – even in critical situations.  We watched them beg their children to obey.  The children didn’t seem to respect their parents or the role God had given the parents as leaders in the home.


As a result of observing both these extremes, my husband and I muddled through to find our own middle ground.  We knew we didn’t want to parent from a place of fear-inducing dictatorship.  We also knew we weren’t going to let our children run rampant in the name of “grace.”  We began reading books {well, mostly I read books and then shared what I read with him after the boys were in bed.}  We found methods and approaches which suited the leaning of our hearts while lining up with what we perceived as our call as parents from God.  Even with all this information and somewhat of a game plan, we had a great learning curve ahead of ourselves.

Having witnessed so many friends taking an extremely authoritarian approach towards their children, I faced a hidden inner barrier.  I found myself unwilling to claim authority in some situations because I didn’t want to clamp down with a “my way or the highway” attitude.  Somehow my children’s God-given freedom of choice had to come into the picture.  I desired for them to understand the deeper reasons for obedience, not simply comply, “because I said so.”

brick wall

My motives were good, but they occasionally caused me to hold back my authority when I should have laid down a line and stuck by it.  One of our sons has an extremely strong will.  He has a need for firm limits {he would tell you otherwise, I’m sure}.  Even when a boundary is clear and appropriate, he doesn’t mind ramming up against a wall a few times to test if it will budge.  To parent him, we have to set limits, be sure of the parameters and then stand by them come what may.

It’s been a process of (1) choosing not to set any limit we don’t want to have to enforce, (2) learning not to use too many words while a limit is being tested {“because I said so” has become a stand by answer despite my preferred approach of giving a reason and having a chat} and (3) not altering the boundaries once they have been established no matter how many times someone says, “No fair,” or “Please, can we think about this, Mom?”

Mom and Child 2

God has given us authority as parents.  In Him, all leaders are servants.  We serve Him and we serve those we lead.  We follow Jesus’ example and do not lord our authority over others.  Still, we do our children a disservice if we allow them to dictate situations or manipulate to get us to change the rules.  We need to be certain of our authority and then exercise it in love.   Too many parents bully their children into submission.  Firm boundaries with consistent follow through give a parent the final say without having to be mean, raise our voice or engage in power struggles.

The time for choice making and input from children doesn’t come when they are in the middle of being disciplined.  Children can speak up when the family is making decisions about recreation.  They can also share ideas and concerns at a family meeting.  When they are not already in a circumstance where they will be disciplined, they can talk about ideas for how they will best learn and what consequences or outcomes should happen when they don’t obey.  At the time of consequence, child input is best tabled while we as parents exercise our God given authority by holding the line both kindly and firmly.

I’m constantly learning and growing as a parent.  I hope some of what I shared here has blessed you and even caused you to think through your approaches to discipline and boundaries with your children.  I love hearing from you!  Join the conversation here {in the comments} or on the Hearts Homeward Facebook page.

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