Re-Claiming Authority: Part One

We have just had an interesting discussion about the differences between power, authority and respect.  To see that discussion, see here:

Where do things go so wrong for parents? My original thought in the post above was that there are two kinds of parents who have problems with all this:   harsh parents who have a hard time connecting with their children and who shove their children aside emotionally; and attachment parents who do wonderful with attachment and connection but not so great in setting boundaries for their children.

I have mentioned before what a  big shift I see in attachment parenting as that first child approaches three and a half or four.  Parenting really shifts at this point, or it should.   I find some attachment parents make the leap well, and some don’t.  If it doesn’t shift at this point with the first child, then you will have catch-up work to do later on, which I will talk about in tomorrow’s post.

What leap?  I am so glad you asked!  Here you go:

2010-11-08 at 01-18-18

(Thank you to my friend Samantha Fogg for letting me use this picture).

This is moss growing on a big rock.  Now, before you think I have lost my mind, let me explain!

This rock is steady; it is not sagging because it has moss on it.  It is not crumbling because it has moss on it!  It is steady.  It is calm; the rain comes down on it, the snow, the wind – and there it sits calmly.  It doesn’t get all upset when the weather is not nice.

The forces of nature do help mold it and wear on it over time, yes, but the original essence of the rock is there and untouched.

Good parenting is like this.  We are like calm, immovable stones.  Our children do shape us, but our essence remains the same because just like a rock cannot help being a rock, we cannot help but be a parent.  Just as moss lives on a rock, we are creating and shaping life for our children.

Small children deserve dignity, respect, unconditional love, gentle hands and gentle voices.  They also deserve the gift of boundaries. I find many parents are reluctant to place boundaries in their lives with their children, but then blow up at the child when the boundary should have been placed and kept the first of the twenty times the child does something.  Why are you blowing up at your child when you failed to set the boundary and help the child stick to that boundary the first time?

One of my dear friends, a terrific mother of three boys, gave a parenting workshop several years ago that I attended.  She related how one day she had her boys in the car and they were in line for the drive-through of a fast food restaurant.  One of the boys spit on the floor of the car.  The boys were all talking and did not notice her easing out of the line.  In fact, they didn’t notice until she was almost home.  They protested, “Hey!  We were going to get some food!”  Their mother replied, “I don’t buy food for boys who spit in my car.”

Well, when she told this story, this sweet little mother with an only child that looked to be about three or four, piped up and said, “Well, if they apologized and calmed down, would you turn around and bring them back to the drive-through?”

Uh, no.

As parents we absolutely have the right to give children second chances.  Absolutely and yay for being human!  But if you give second chances for everything, always couch things without a direct rule involved, make up for your child every time they do something that wasn’t morally good …well, then you are not being a rock!

One of  most important things you can give your child is the gift of knowing THEIR ACTIONS MATTER.  What they do counts.  What they do has consequences.  And if you do not let them experience this when they are with you and there to help guide them, the world is going to be far harsher in teaching this when they grow up.  Even things that are developmentally normal still need guidance!

You and your child will have moments where neither of you are at your best.  A loving, attached relationship is the basis of grace, humility and forgiveness.  But, if the more negative moments of your relationship with your child is  outweighing everything, or the negative moments are just so intense and color the world of the family, go back and look at boundaries:

What boundaries exist?

When I set a boundary how do I follow through? 

Do I do this EVERY TIME?

What is the “consequence” of my child’s action?  Does this happen every time?

Food for thought,


34 thoughts on “Re-Claiming Authority: Part One

  1. Hooray! I agree that second chances are sometimes okay, but I notice right away if I have given too many and then backing up and fixing it is harder. It is better to be that steady rock.

    I also think some of this comes down to really surrendering and claiming your place as mother. It involves much more than being that loving, cuddly mom, it involves allowing that mantle of responsibility to really wash over you and take hold. It involves thinking ahead and understanding that role of authority because in an instant you will be thrust from the cuddly place to the place where you have to take action. They grow so fast and if you don’t make sure you hold that steady place when they are little, you will have a much harder time as they grow. I *do* really love Steiner’s indications about all of this.

    From him:
    “Children’s sense of authority will need to be more intensively and more highly developed between the ages of seven and fourteen in the future than it was in the past….What we implant during these years will form the basis for what adults within the social organism experience as equal rights for their fellow human beings. A feeling for equal rights for other human beings cannot exist in adults if a feeling for authority is not implanted in them during childhood. Otherwise, adults will never become mature enough to recognize the rights of others.”

    In order to make these adults ready to be in society, we have to arm them with the knowledge of rules and what happens when they are broken.


    Melisa Nielsen

  2. Okay, Carrie, so now I see where I’ve gone wrong. I give too many second chances. I always give them. I felt like this was a good thing, that I was showing my child a fair, forgiving world. But my almost three year old lately has not been cooperating on ANYTHING and has had some very challenging behavior aside, and I’ve been losing my hair trying to deal with this because I thought I was setting the boundary by telling him that the behavior is unacceptable. And I sooooo fill that child’s love cup. But I totally get it now. I need to give him the gift of knowing his actions matter and have consequences. This parenting journey is so hard. This is a post that will really stick with me until I get it right.

  3. Your analogy of a rock is fabulous as is your example. I also agree that an apology is totally irrelevant in the situation you offered. Children seem to believe a “sorry” makes up for misbehavior. Changing behavior makes up for misbehavior. Insisting children apologies is our societies first lesson in lying. (But that’s another post 🙂 ) Thank you for clarifying and giving examples to boundary setting.

  4. Any suggestions for moms who are now ready to take hold of the “mantle of responsibility” and set firmer boundaries? My oldest is very nearly six, my middle child is three and a half, and we have a five month old baby as well. We are having frequent meltdowns on all sides that seem to be overshadowing everything else. Any ideas/help would be greatly appreciated.

  5. I agree with this but…

    Whenever there are alot of consequences in our family it always becomes clear that people haven’t been having enough sleep, regular meals, not enough exercise, too much electronic entertainment, lack of structure, children being put in situations they can’t cope with (e.g. too noisy, too busy – I have a 7 and 4 year old) etc. etc. Getting all of this back on track almost always means no more consequences.

    • Kirstie — Yes, yes, yes — prevention is very important and sometimes with children (and adults too!) that is enough to have things mainly flow. However, when I say “consequences” I definitely don’t mean some mean and random punishment a parent thinks up, but I do mean not swooping in and rescuing all the time….In the example in this post, not going out to eat after spitting in the car was a consequence. Sometimes we just don’t feel generous for the moment, and I think we have to be careful not to be the parent who swoops in after the child has not done his homework and gets a zero, the parent calls and argues with the teacher about it…or the child who will not participate in something and then later cries about missing it all, there is a consequence.
      The consequence that should take place after every learning experience is just that: learning! And restitution if the experience involved hurting someone else or disrupting the family harmony. There are quite a few posts on here about restitution. Restitution is empowering to show how to fix a problem.
      Hope that helps clarify, as children grow older it is less and less about the eating, sleep, etc but true emotional struggles and growth and getting into situations of morality and ethics. Tough stuff sometimes. 🙂
      Many blessings,

  6. just catching up on your blog and i wanted to tell you that i am loving this theme. “hold onto your kids” is one of my favorite parenting books ever and i really like how you are fleshing out some of the ideas presented there — you are so wonderful at this!

    i am not sure also exactly where this fits into this discussion but it keeps popping into my head so i am sharing it. it is the slight difference between being empowered and having power over another. what i mean is that, in the best version of parenting i believe that i have sense of my own inner strength and power and i am simply holding still with that. in my less wonderful moments i feel off balance and in my weakness there i try to exert power over my children – using tools i do not like!

    the feeling is oh so very different as is their response of course. having authority and power is something that we carrying from deep within ourselves. it does not involve squashing others it involves standing tall ourselves.

    i hope that makes a tiny bit of sense here…

    robin (woowoo mama)

    • Woowoomama,
      Great to see you here! Yes, I think that is the difference between having a commanding presence where no tools are really needed, those moments where even in conflict we are holding it together and then those moments where things are not flowing at all!
      Great observation,

  7. Carrie, I’m really enjoying this discussion. Although I feel like I carry a lot of authority with my eldest (girl of 6), I don’t see my youngest (boy of almost 4) recognizing my authority or that of any adult like I would expect. These posts have helped me pinpoint that this shortcoming is what I see as concerning about his behavior. I look forward to your thoughts on how to claim/carry this authority with the preschool/K age.

    • Rachel,
      Definitely keep in mind a four year old boy is very different than a six year old girl. I have a TON of posts about the four year old on this blog if you throw four year old as a term into the search engine. And yes, you will hear more musings on authority and boundaries on this blog too.
      Many blessings,

  8. The other day after a long hike with relatives my six year old had a total meltdown and was screaming in the car. She said she hated her family and she wished we were all dead because we didn’t let her go on one final sled ride before getting into the car. The issue is that my husband and I had completely different responses to this. I felt no emotional reaction and felt like I needed to just be a quiet rock sitting beside her and let the storm pass. This was totally out of character for her. She has never said things like this before. It was the day after Thanksgiving, and due to the festivities the night before, she had gone to bed 3 hours after her bedtime. I knew she was just exhausted. She was really a trooper on the hike and I knew that part of her anger was due to a feeling of competitiveness with her cousins. My husband had a strong emotional response to this. When she didn’t stop screaming right away, and he saw that I was not doing anything, he stopped the car, got out, opened her door, and threatened to do something to her that would really make her cry if she didn’t stop. He also uttered some obscenities. This incident launched a major fight between my husband and I. We generally have very different ways of parenting. He tends to overreact and I am sometimes too lenient, though in this situation I stood my ground because I really felt like she just needed to explode for a moment in order to calm down. Later I talked to her about it and told her that the things she said were really awful and I asked her to write a note of apology to her family for it. My husband felt like I did nothing and that the way she behaved was totally unacceptable and his mother would have never tolerated any of it. What do you think is the appropriate response in this kind of situation? Should I have tried to stop her in the moment? Was I being too passive? What do I do if my husband has no interest whatsoever in understanding the developmental stages of children? I think our children ages 2 and 6 are really well behaved and he thinks they rule the house. I feel like he is constantly critical of the way I handle issues with our kids and I have a hard time with the way he handles issues with our children because he always uses his own family as a yardstick. And yet he felt like his parents didn’t love him, he was terrified of his mother. Still I think he respects her because she had total control and my husband and his siblings were obedient out of fear. He thinks this was good. Any thoughts?

  9. Interesting that you posted about a shift in parenting occurring around age 3.5 or 4. My oldest is nearly 3.5 and I have just recently started feeling different about our relationship. I “get” a lot of things that I didn’t when he was a baby. My relationship with my 3 y/o is much different than my relationship with my 1 y/o, although they are both still nursing, still sleep with me, etc. That foundation of attachment that I have with my older one is now morphing into me really understanding his capabilities and having growing, yet realistic, expectations of him.

  10. I am struggling with consequences. I know I need to be a stronger rock when my 3.5 y/o gets on top of her younger sister, causing her to cry. She constantly keeps at the younger one, bothering and hurting her. I’m at a loss for what to do (to be that rock). I’ve tried time in’s – can’t think of anything else (because I think it needs to relate to the moment – but maybe it doesn’t). It just doesn’t seam to be that effective…..but maybe because I’m not fully behind it. Maybe I need to be a believer and she will sense it?

    • Marie — Here are a few “off of my head and not well thought out ideas”. LOL
      Work, work work….”I think those little hands forgot what they are doing! Come and help me – peel potatoes, peel carrots, grate cheese, plant flower bulbs”. Then after the work and such, “Your sister was really hurt earlier, let’s give draw her a picture .” (if you want to move away from the physical realm a bit and if it really was hurting play and not just roughhousing play). Another thought would be to double check the amount of outside time they are getting and what structure is around their inside play. Also, could you wear your little one in a sling at all?
      Also, although the physicality that siblings use with one another can be an important part of figuring out boundaries in a sense it needs to be directed…sometimes rough housing play with a Dad is another way to channel that energy and then you can say, “We play like that when we play (whatever you call rough-housing with Daddy). Now we have gentle hands little mouse” and lead one of them away to DO something or to play something.
      It is challenging, isn’t it? Those are just a few ideas, take what works for you….Like I said, that was just off the cuff, so not really well thought out.
      Many blessings,
      Carrie 🙂

  11. Just another comment, this one about restitution. I think my girls hurt each other sometimes so that they can “make it better” with hugs. It’s almost like a game to them. But it involves a lot of tears, disruption from play and it doesn’t translate well into the outside world (with other kids)!

  12. Looking forward to part 2! I keep this in mind with the mantra “kindness and firmness” (and sometimes, “firmness, and kindness”, lol!) However, I seem to have a hard time being both at the same time. I can be kind and wimpy, or firm and mean, it seems. It’s getting better, but it’s HARD!

  13. So, tell me if this sounds like the proper way to be a rock: My child refuses to do the thing I’m asking. I come alongside to physically help him do it. He starts to tantrum. I comfort, but still insist he do the thing, after he’s calmed down. He still won’t do it. I come alongside to help. He starts to tantrum again. I comfort. Rinse & repeat.

    Sometimes this could go on for weeks. But, once the thing is learned, it usually sticks (in my experience…unless *I* become slack). With much patience gained on both ends.

    Does this sound about right? I have a spirited young man, 4 yrs old. This is not an easy task. About once a week, at least, I lose my cool & shout at him. Trying to work on this.

  14. Adding: And you are right! After AP babyhood, this is so difficult to teach ourselves. I used to be able to simply trust his needs. But, the older, more vocal, willful child thinks he needs cookies for breakfast, tv all day, & no longer wants to “help” pick up his toys. Not to mention the dozens of “gray” areas, where I’m not really sure who’s right! = /

  15. Thanks Carrie for some great ideas – even your off the cuff ideas are really helpful!! I’m ready to implement!
    I have been doing something lately that has been working for tantrums that I wanted to share. When my daughter (works best with 3 y/o +) is out of control with her emotions, or upset because of a decision I have made (i.e. only 3 books before bed, not 10) I say: I am going to choose to enjoy this time with you, I am choosing to be happy and would like to sit with you and sing a song (or something). Do you want to choose to be happy with me? It really works and I hope it is teaching her that she has control over her feelings. The fact that we can choose to be happy is something I am even now still trying to make a part of my life.

    • Hi Marie, Glad that was helpful. Thank you for sharing your idea. I think talking about simple emotional feelings and such as you suggested can work well for a child of 8 or 9 and up. Thank you for sharing!
      Many blessings,

  16. Hi Carrie,

    I’m enjoying your blog as always, and getting lots of inspiration and support from it, but found myself debating your friend’s reaction to her son spitting in the car.

    Might it not be better to offer the child a chance to amend their behaviour, i.e. “if you do that again, we will go home without getting the fast food”, rather than taking something away with no warning? And even then, is that not holding your power over their head to make them behave, (coercing) rather than them behaving for a more positive reason? (I admit my children are both under 5’s so might feel differently when they’re older!)

    I’ve read Unconditional Parenting, and other books advocating positive discipline, but not sure whether human beings, especially children, act altruistically, or whether you do need to threaten a bit or show them how their good behaviour rewards them, themselves, rather than trying to encourage kindness etc for the sake of others. V. confused at the moment!

    Anyway, thanks for your interesting thoughts.

    PS Is there a forum where this kind of question can be discussed that you know of?

    • Jessica,
      I think you could try Donna Simmons’ Waldorf at home forum or Melisa Nielsen’s Yahoo!Group for Waldorf parening perspectives…There are many gentle discipline boards over at as well, although I have to admit I find the framework Waldorf provides to gentle discipline to make more sense than using the same tactics no matter what the age.
      I think what you say regarding the fast food situation could be possible, but I believe my friend’s children were much older and knew spitting in a car was not where spit belonged. Age of child is so important in these situations..:)
      Many blessings,

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  22. Hi Carrie,
    I have just discovered your website and I’ve been reduced to tears by your words. So many of your articles resonate with me and where I find myself right now. I am quite lost, feeling like a failure as a parent of a 10 year old daughter who would rather be doing anything than spending time with me, is rude and disrespectful often and generally testing all the limits.
    I have been reading for about an hour now and have so many new solutions to the problems I have created. I just wanted to say that the image of the moss-covered stone has brought clarity to my oughta and given me an image to hold in my heart.
    I sure have a long way to go but now I have a compass.
    Warmth and blessings to you for your beautiful words.

    • Lauren,
      I am so glad you found this site, and I hope you are feeling encouraged! I feel in these instances, much can be done to re-claim our children by reducing time with peers, by re-claiming our gentle place of leadership, doing things together that are fun and connecting, and extremely limited media. I suggest if you like this post that you read the book, “Hold On To Your Kids” by Neufeld and Mate. And please feel free to write me at if you need some email support. I would love to hear a follow- up to your story that things are going so much better!

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