Can You Have Authority Without Being Authoritarian? Yes, You Can!
This post feels like it’s about screen time, but it’s not.
It’s just that our kids’ obsession with screens very easily amplify many of the challenges of child-raising; defiance and dishonesty, discipline and ‘consequences’, bribes and threats, conflict and arguments, the joy of being ignored…
It’s a wonder we even let these devices into our kids’ lives, but for various reasons, most of us do.
So what is this about then?
Today’s post is inspired by an exchange I was observing recently between a parent and child in a restaurant; the mum was clearly reticent to insist her child’s tablet went away, and the child played her mum’s fear of making a scene 100% to her advantage.
The child had the power, while the parent was like the child, asking for permission to take the tablet back.
And it got me thinking, because a lot of what I wax lyrical about is the cons of authoritarian parenting: how it doesn’t serve child or parent in the long run.
And yet, as well intentioned as we are to parent more gently, we can end up feeling like we’re talking to ourselves… we end up shouting, making threats and generally losing our s*** with our kids anyway.
But it saps the joy from parenting, doesn’t it? Being authoritarian can feel overbearing, dictatorial, aggressive, and then guilt-inducing.
So what’s the answer when the alternative can leave us feeling permissive, ineffective and disrespected as a parent?
Finding the middle ground is a problem many of us encounter regularly, and my take on it is this; we can still have authority without being an authoritarian. And we need to.
Because, at its heart, that’s what this parent in the restaurant was struggling with, and the whole episode seemed no less challenging than the dictatorial approach I expect she was trying to avoid.
She was anxious, frustrated and eventually defeated.
The thing is, giving our children some power and autonomy doesn’t mean giving up all of ours either.
As I once heard it beautifully described “Power is not like a remote control, where only one person has it. Power can be shared”
So how do we ‘share power‘; especially when we’re struggling to assert ourselves in a non-confrontational way?
And especially, especially in public…
None of us get this right all the time; there are so many variables that can turn our intentions upside down or knock us off course.
But here are five simple practices that can get help!
1) Give notice
If a possible trigger point is coming up, be courageous enough to explain to your child what’s going to happen in advance, and how you’re going to manage the situation together, rather than say nothing and hope for the best. It positions you on the same side as each other, rather than in opposition.
2) Give choice
Nobody likes being disempowered, so when we involve our children; even in seemingly trivial decisions; we give them agency, and we help validate their need for power. Sometimes that’s all they need.
3) “Be What you want to see”
Humans, often completely subconsciously, tend to mirror the behaviours of those around them; hence why we often find ourselves matching our kids’ frustrated or angry states.
We don’t nail this every time, but consciously and intentionally try to remain in the state you want your kids to join you in, rather than matching theirs.
4) Bend a little
It’s easy to cut our nose off to spite our face by refusing to budge an inch. But while we don’t want to completely undermine our authority by not implementing any boundaries, consider a little bit of wiggle room.
It all comes back to power-sharing.
5) Don’t wait for crisis point
I say this about everything, not just power-struggles. If you can help it, never wait until things start to fall apart before you respond. An overwhelmed brain is at the mercy of the emotional hijack, when reasoning and perspective have already gone out of the window.
Be brave enough to calmly address say what you need while your child’s brain is still ready to receive, even if they’re not going to thank you for it. It’s not our job to just ‘keep our children happy’.
Unhappiness will find them eventually anyway, so isn’t our job to make sure they’re equipped to cope with that?
That means helping them to learn how to be responsible for their own happiness.
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