Power, Authority and Respect in Parenting

So we are headed into Chapter Five of “Hold On To Your Kids:  Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Kids” by Neufeld and Mate, but I had such an interesting comment on Chapter Four that I thought it really deserved a post.  It was regarding the relationship between power and authority and the difference between the two.  Fascinating stuff, and it really got my brain cells ticking!  Thank you so much kind reader! 

This book is a good, thought-provoking read for all parents.  It really is an ultimate attachment book, but because it is dealing with the battle of peers versus the family unit, it may be one that  says things and rubs parents the wrong way until they have the experience of their children being a bit older.  After all, it is hard sometimes to think of authority and boundaries and peers when you have a precious two-year-old who is still such a big part of you.  However, it is very important information for parents of small children to have because the foundation for this attachment is laid within the early years, and also because if one has the idea that gentle discipline does involve boundaries, that this is coming, it is not such a shock when the need arises for the functioning of the family and for the functioning of the children in society.  Those of you who have read this book and have smaller (under the grades) aged children, is this book bothering you or making you think or are you disagreeing with it all?  Please leave a comment!

I have to say I think that most of the chapter four in this book  is right in line with this blog and my thoughts on parenting.  Please do let me explain how I look at it; you all know I usually have a different way to look at things than most people, LOL.

I think this goes back to the question of what is power in parenting?  What is authority in parenting?  And the unspoken question of what is respect in parenting?

I respectfully disagree that power is typically exercised for the benefit of the powerful.  That is misguided and abused power at its best.  Power, in the hands of a moral and ethical person, carries great responsibility. Power is not something we hold over our children’s heads, but is intertwined with the authority we carry.  Webster’s Dictionary says that authority IS power, “ the POWER to influence or command thought, opinion or behavior”, (you can see this definition from one of the very first posts I ever wrote, updated here:  https://theparentingpassageway.com/2010/10/06/back-to-basics-the-framework-for-gentle-discipline/). 

I don’t believe I can earn authority.  Authority in a formal setting or a job is granted.  Authority in parenting comes just because you ARE the PARENT.  The child is always worthy of dignity, of respect, of love, but YOU are the parent.  And just by being the parent you have the authority and the power to guide your child. 

The problem I see is that many parents do not lay down a basis of connection and attachment to their child and then have this rather empty gesture of trying to use force and “power”  in the worst term and way as they become completely frustrated with their child’s behavior.  They try to “power over”  their children, and create this giant battlefield against their child.  (You can see my post about The Battlefield of The Mind here:https://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/05/22/the-battlefield-of-the-mind-anger-and-parenting/    )  These parents  don’t see the child as one who has a different level of consciousness than an adult but as someone who needs coercion to do what needs to be done and be “obedient”.  So yes, the parental “power and authority”,(which shouldn’t be dirty words but words that make the child feel safe in his or her world), get demonstrated badly.

Or contrast this to the other type of parents I see:  those who do a stellar job of attachment and connection, but who do not hold any authority or power in their own homes.  Their little children know no boundaries, and what was developmentally immature  behavior turns into behavior that is disrespectful and impolite to adults outside of the family and infringes upon the needs of parents and  the family as a whole.  I alluded  in my last post to the difficulty some parents have in switching gears in their parenting life once their first child goes through the first show of true “will”.  This developmental stage is only followed by other stages where the child begins to show changes as they come into their bodies and themselves at the six/seven transformation, the nine year change, the twelve year change, not to mention the other developmental stages along the way!

What is lacking in both of these cases is the parent using power and authority as AUTHENTIC LEADERSHIP. One of my very first blog posts was this one regarding “Discipline As Authentic Leadership” : https://theparentingpassageway.com/2008/10/16/gentle-discipline-as-authentic-leadership/.   I just want to underscore that attachment and authority and providing boundaries and being consistent and  yes, protection and bringing things in at the right time (which involves you stepping up and guiding your children according to your beliefs and values) are still hallmarks of good parenting. 

Leadership uses authority and power in an authentic, loving, kind and constant way to guide the child.  It cannot be earned, it is there because you are the parent!  However,  RESPECT can be earned and is important for the child to feel a sense of respect. 

  • You cannot earn your child’s respect if you never set any boundaries or if you set a boundary and never enforce it.  (The side note and digression here:  That sounds mean, but I disagree  with the authors here when they say that parenting tools are not needed if connection is good. I think there are parenting tools for each seven year cycle, I think there are ways to talk to children in each of these cycles, and this is where I feel tools CAN be helpful to parents.  We have lost so much of this view of what normal childhood development is that we need a bit of a reminder with what works best when).
  • You cannot earn your child’s respect if you have no respect for yourself and put yourself completely dead last as a martyr taking care of your family and you have no boundaries for yourself.
  • You cannot earn your child’s respect if you disintegrate into a ranting, yelling lunatic every time your child says they won’t eat their peas or wear their boots.
  • You cannot earn your child’s respect if you never listen to them or spend time with them.
  • You cannot earn your child’s respect if you and your partner cannot get on the same page regarding parenting and life. Sometimes in partnerships we lead, sometimes we follow.  Model this for your child.
  • You cannot earn your child’s respect if you have no rules and no ideas as to what sorts of things should happen when.  When should your child have a Facebook page or a first sleep-over or get their ears pierced or be able to bike to the store?  If you don’t know these things, how will your child?

Constancy.  Authentic Leadership.  Knowing what your values are as a family and guiding your children with that.  Understanding the differences between parenting a three-year-old and a ten-year-old.  Having tools at your disposal.

Anyway, thank you dear reader for a great comment and a great thought-provoking chapter!  Take what resonates with you and your family.  You are the expert on your own family.

Many blessings,


11 thoughts on “Power, Authority and Respect in Parenting

  1. I am very happy that you are working with us through this book. My children are both below the grades age but I still love reading all these posts, as a lot of the groundwork is laid in the early years, like you mention.
    By the way I completely agree with you in regards to power and authority, they do go hand in hand and it is up to us as parents on how we use it.

    Time flies very quick and I will be re-reading these posts sooner rather than later, I am sure of it!


  2. Oh Carrie! I couldn’t agree more. I have been pondering the differences between power and force. They are not the same thing. Power and authority go hand in hand, but force is something all together different and I really think that when young families resist authority, it is because someplace in their life they have experienced unrighteous dominion or force. There is such a different feeling in both. My children rarely misbehave and that is saying a lot considering how big our crowd is growing, but even my 4yo knows when Mom means business and he doesn’t need to be forced, he needs me to take on that mantle of authority. I love this saying “The mantle of leadership is NOT a cloak of comfort but a robe of responsibility.” (T.S. Monson) This role of parenthood must be taken on with that in mind – you can be attached and loving but you must also be firm and powerful.

    I have watched very unhealthy authority over the years, one child only knew how to connect with his mother when she guilted him. The two could not communicate any other way, she whined and he jumped. Watching that interaction gave me such a wake up call to what I wanted with my children. I have cultivated a space where I can ask my nearly 14yo to do something and he does it – not our of fear, out of respect. It hasn’t always been an easy road, but I have always been consistent. If you haven’t been, wouldn’t today be a good day to start? You will thank yourself when they are 9, 12, 16!

    Something personal and interesting I want to share… my older three are from my first marriage, my former husband does NOT hold authority, when the children were young and in his care, they ran wild… put them back in my care for 10 minutes and they were obedient again. As they have grown, their opinions of their father have really been interesting. One might think that children would prefer the house with no rules (Erik calls it the House of No Responsibility! LOL) but now, at the ages of nearly 10, 11, and nearly 14, only one child visits. The other two have preferred the house of safety, security and rules. My middle son that continues to go has been tempted many times by his father to live there but each time he comes home, hugs me and tells me just how much he appreciates the safety that comes with knowing where his boundaries are.

    Also, holding this within your home always you to hold it in other areas as well. Erik and I teach Sunday school and we have a group of about 5 children that are all four years old. Now I have watched these children all through church drive their permissive parents batty and they come into our classroom, sit down on a blanket and are the sweetest children around.

    We are actually covering a chapter in 108 Days for our Beacons this week on this very topic, how power and civility go hand in hand.

    Again, wonderful post Carrie! Something I feel so strongly about!

    Melisa Nielsen

  3. I really enjoy reading about this book. I had my first child at 19 and was a single mother. I had no “tools” at that time and so did the best I knew how to do, which often meant coercing, arguing, bribing, debating, etc. My son is now 21 and I see the results. He is a very kind, compassionate, and respectful person, but boy can he argue over everything (a skill I taught him with my parenting style). I now have another son – 5 months old – and I really value the idea of being the authority in his life. Not in an abusive way, but as his parent. I realize that my role isn’t to be his friend, it’s to be his parent/guide/stability. It is probably very true that parents with young kids would find this hard to understand, but now that I have the hindsight and the ability to do it all over again, I really believe it’s important. Thanks for your blog. It’s great!

  4. Carrie, and Melisa,

    Such thought-provoking stuff for me. I have wrestled with this very issue of authority and these last two posts seem to me to be at the root of my own parenting struggles. Melisa’s comment on permissive parents having some skewed experience with authority resonates with me, and is a good question to consider but I am still a bit baffled at myself.

    I was raised in a very loving environment with few spoken rules except to behave and obey mom and dad. I was spanked liberally as a small child and feel in some senses that my own sense of personal will and ability to make decisions has been compromised at the expense of obedience. However, until I was a mom myself, I always asserted that I knew my parents loved me, it wasn’t a problem for me, etc. I always felt safe with and cared for with my parents.

    But this starts my struggle with my own little boys, 7, 4, 2. My husband and I have chosen to do things differently than my parents and in-laws, and yet now that the oldest is 7, I am having a particular time of just general obedience. I always thought that obedience was overrated, and I didn’t want robot children, but there is something really warm and good and peaceful about children who are able to do what their parents say without whining, bargaining, complaining provided the parents are asking also in kindness. I have wondered about my own families underlying unconscious beliefs on authority. My dad was the boss, but himself really has a hard time being under anyone else’s authority…could this have filtered into my own belief system and so I find it hard to BE the authority for my own kids? We didn’t have a lot of “at this age, you can do this or that” as Carrie mentions. So, all decisions were just up to mom and dad. This has left me a little bit at a loss on how to create such clear boundaries within my own family, as it is something I didn’t experience. Sounds easier than me trying to make decisions on everything only as they come up though. It has left me feeling quite weak, I admit and incompetent really. My husband doesn’t really struggle with this and the boys behave better when just with him, but when I am around, there is just so much fussing and whining.

    This blog has been a life saver for me and Carrie i really am grateful. So my only real question is, Can I begin even now to be the authority? I guess that in itself might be a silly question, I am the only one who needs to believe it, right? As long as I myself don’t believe it, obviously neither will my children. Probably just answered my own question!

    The quote from the book, “The power to parent arises when things are in their natural order, and it arises without effort, without posturing, and without pushing. It is when we lack power that we are likely to resort to force. The more power a parent commands, the less force is required in day-to-day parenting. On the other hand, the less power we possess, the more impelled we are to raise our voices, harshen our demeanor, utter threats, and seek some leverage to make our children comply with our demands.” So true in my own life. How can I reclaim the authority as you are speaking of it without being overbearing or dictator-like?

  5. Pingback: Re-Claiming Authority: Part One « The Parenting Passageway

  6. Wow! How incredibly right on! I have an almost 3.5 year old, and we are definitely making that shift… a learning curve! It’s amazing the transition from a more structural, redirective approach to boundaries to a more literal one!

    We are “attachment” oriented for sure, and I often struggle with how to set boundaries within that framework (i.e. how do you enforce good manners during cosleeping?, etc.). I would say that, esp if you didn’t have a good model growing up, it’s really helpful to find some like-minded folks to share and learn from… esp some with older kids who can give you wisdom.

    And, I think the main thing I’ve realized is that my boundaries are mine (and my partner’s)… no one else has to agree or understand them! We have many things we let go that other parents do not, but we have very firm boundaries where those same parents might not. I think once I gave myself the permission, the “authority”, to make those decisions, things have become more fluid (and, as long as those boundaries were set out of loving kindness, not out of frustration or impulsivity!)

    I love the analogy of the rock… so true! I’m not there yet, but I’m working to get there!

  7. I agree with everything you have posted on this post.

    Thank you for so eloquently putting into words what many of us think/need/feel about parenting.

    On a different note, I was wondering if you have any specific recommendations for child development books.

    Thanks so much Carrie!

  8. Pingback: When You Are Fearful In Homeschooling « The Parenting Passageway

  9. Pingback: “Love And Anger: The Parental Dilemma”–Chapter Three « The Parenting Passageway

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.