Let’s talk for a minute about what our job is as a parent. I think that we would all agree that keeping our kids safe is an essential part of that job. But let’s look at the bigger picture. Most of us anticipate a very short 18 years to teach, train, and model healthy behaviors until our little birds are launched from the nest into adulthood. I can say short because I have 2 of my 4 who have crossed that threshold and it’s very short from this side of parenting – but not to worry, I’m still deep in the trenches of the other side of parenting with a 9 and 14 year old, so I know it’s doesn’t feel short when you are slogging through it day after day.
So how do we not get bogged down in the day to day chores of life and keep our focus on the end goal, of happy, healthy, successful adults? It’s important to recognize that helping our kids reach that end goal doesn’t mean abdicating our role as their parent and expecting them to make adult decisions as a 4, 7, 10 or even 16 year old. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying don’t let them make any decisions, just don’t let them make all of them, or place some healthy parameters around their choices. For example, clothing seems to become a battleground very early on in our kids’ lives, probably because it’s something they recognize that they can exert some control over. How many of us have taken a costumed child out to run errands because they pitch a fit about taking the costume off? It’s definitely important to choose your battles, but it’s also important for your child’s health that their clothing be weather appropriate. One way to allow them some autonomy when it comes to their clothes is to offer them choices, or at the very least keep the off-season clothes inaccessible (a high shelf in the closet, a box in the attic, or a dresser in the guest room are some suggestions for how to do this). Then they can begin to make decisions about their clothes each day within the parameters of staying safe and healthy – and if the princess dress is over warm clothes in the winter, enjoy the smile on your little princess’s face as she travels with you throughout your day.
It’s important to see the role that parental authority plays as a slope, from total authority and responsibility for them as infants to no real authority as they reach their mid-20’s and are living independently and self-sufficient. Each time they reach a developmental milestone along the way, they are gaining a little bit of responsibility for themselves and we need to create an environment that encourages those baby steps to adulthood all along the way. As I mentioned above, offering choices is one way to do that. Another is to ask for their assistance in age appropriate ways with household chores. There are a plethora of articles and resources on the internet for what is age-appropriate when it comes to chores, but you are the best judge of what your children are capable of at any given age. Often when a discussion of chores comes up, it goes hand-in-hand with the question of allowance. For me, I think it’s important for your children to help with chores because they are part of the family and you all work together to take care of yourselves, each other, and your belongings. If you choose to pay your children an allowance, let that be the flip side of working together, that you not only share the work but the money because you are family rather than tying it to specific chores/jobs. That way your children can experience the personal gratification of a job well done without expecting to always receive an extrinsic reward, a.k.a. money, for everything they do.
I think parental authority is a tricky subject for many of us, depending on the level of authority we were raised with. Particularly when parents are dictatorial, their children often grow-up to be more permissive parents. It’s important to be able to find a balance, for the sake of our children and our society as a whole. Don’t be afraid to set limits for your children, because that actually helps them to feel safe and loved.