I enjoyed Robert Crampton’s Times piece ‘Because I say so’; an article written from the perspective of the father – still married to the mother – of his teenage son, discussing the issues of parental discipline.
The word authority seems to have morphed into something to be feared, fought against and mistrusted. Sadly, this is in part due to the miscreants that society often places in positions of authority and the impact of their abuse of that authority. Nevertheless, many authority figures fulfil just, reliable and responsible positions that are a requirement for an orderly and organised society. Police officers, members of the judiciary, clerics (you decide), teachers and parents. Whoa, parents, I hear you cry, when did they start to assume hold positions of authority? The bible tells us to ‘honour thy mother and thy father’ and many faiths and cultures have ceremonies for new parents and ‘god’ parents too. So, with all this natural and god-given authority, why are parenting classes and handbooks, courses and websites devoted to the tricky issue of parenting, in particular parenting and discipline? It’s clear that that ‘parental authority’ doesn’t equate with parental experience to enforce this authority. There really is no manual. And because every parent is as unique and individual as their children and there are so many family variations, the possibility for confusion and complexity in fulfilling parental authority is practically infinite.
Many psychologists including Jung and Freud have theorised about parenting and the parent/child relationship and one thing is clear: bold and deeply entrenched parenting patterns can run through families for generations. Whilst this is acknowledged, there is still plenty parents can do to gain or regain their parental authority. It’s not easy but when you consider that the rewards can travel down your family for future generations, the investment in time and energy is certainly worth the effort for such an important legacy.
In Robert’s words: ‘they are all sweet boys at 13. If you want them still to be sweet at 17, you have to show them who’s boss.’ From his article, I discern that his techniques for showing them who’s boss are:
- Use your voice – saying calmly and firmly when you think something is wrong or unacceptable provides a clear, unambiguous message.
- Do not negotiate – ‘because I say so’ is a vocal challenge leaving no room for manoeuvre, no bargaining is entered into, it’s just because it is.
- ‘The father has failed to assert himself’ – here he is not referring to physical acts of assertion, he is referring to standing tall, making direct eye contact, remembering you are a parent, not friends.
- Owning your role – if you ‘give away’ your authority to school or peers, you are effectively allowing other forces (insert your own list here) to assume your authority to shape and influence your child.
Are we flying the flag for old-fashioned Victorian authoritarian parenting? No, we’re flying the flag for fully fledged badge-wearing loving parents to own and flourish in their role of raising tomorrow’s generation. Here’s the job description: “Challenging and exciting role of caretaker for another human being, 18 year contract, full-time position, working hours 24/7, no holiday, deferred gratification with occassional flashes of intense compassion and humility. Work must be done alongside any other employment.”
Form an orderly queue.
© Suzy Rigg