In recent posts, I have discussed several Ezzo techniques that can help you establish authority over your child. While these techniques will work if you apply them consistently, it’s important to realize that each parent has a unique relationship with the child. How you interact with your child is up to you. When establishing parental authority in particular, both parents (and other authority figures in a child’s life) must use these techniques to build their own credibility in the eyes of the child. While one parent may spend more time with the child, it is still important for your spouse (or grandma or auntie) to establish his or her own authority over the child.
Not long ago, I operated under the assumption that if I worked on applying the Ezzo principles in my parenting, I would prepare my kids for every situation they encountered in life. I figured that if I taught them to respect my authority, they would naturally respect all other authority figures. Not true.
Soon after he started preschool this year, William began displaying a “wise in his own eyes” attitude problem. It was immediately obvious to me that his tone was disrespectful and that he was challenging my authority. I quickly spotted the problem and nipped it in the bud, telling him that he could not speak to me the way he did. The second I noticed his attitude shift, I stopped him in his tracks and told him to rephrase his words and speak to me nicely. It worked well, so problem solved, right?
Well, it occurred to William that while he may not be able to talk to me disrespectfully, maybe it would work on daddy. When I heard William speak disrespectfully to my husband, I jumped in and used my technique to get him to change his tone. I stopped him and told him to speak to daddy nicely. But it didn’t work this time. The disrespect continued. What William needed was for my husband to exert his own authority and tell William himself that he wouldn’t accept his disrespectful tone. I couldn’t change their relationship. My husband alone had to establish his authority over William.
We each have our own unique relationships with our children. Mom may be the disciplinarian. Dad may be fun and games. Mom may prefer to quietly read to the child. Dad may prefer to hold nightly wrestling matches. However you define your parenting roles, you must realize that your relationship with your child is unique and that your child is well aware of the differences.
You may remember as a child knowing which parent to go to with a specific request. You knew dad would say no, so you asked mom instead. Our children do the same with us. They have figured us out. They know us better than we know ourselves.
Examine your individual relationship with your child. If you feel confident that your child respects your authority, then well done. Sit back and let your spouse do the work to build his own parental authority. Don’t feel like you need to do it for him. You can’t.
If you feel your parental authority could use some work, then the responsibility is on you alone. Your spouse cannot fix this for you. The same goes for grandparents, teachers and other authority figures in the child’s life. Every one of us must do our own work to establish our authority over the child.
Growing Kids God’s Way has a chapter titled “The Father’s Mandate”. I will go into the specifics later, but it’s interesting that the authors felt the need to call attention to dad. They thought it was so important they devoted an entire chapter to it. Typically, as moms, we spend more time with our kids. I stay home with our boys and devote about 90% of my day to them. My husband, on the other hand, is consumed with work and only thinks about the kids maybe 10-20% of his day. This is as it should be.
But this does not let dad off the hook. He must still cultivate a relationship with the child and develop his own parental authority. You can guide him and show him by example how you would treat a particular situation, but be careful not to step in and take over. And don’t critique his parenting in front of the kids. This will only undermine his parental authority. Support every decision your spouse makes, even if you disagree with it. Find a time later when the kids are out of earshot to discuss it. You might even develop a signal (a tug on the ear or a “look”) that says, I disagree with what you just did; please change your tactic.
Do your work to establish your own authority with your child and offer your spouse (and grandparents and others) the tools they need to build their own authority. Offer your support and guidance and then sit back. Give your spouse the freedom he needs to establish his own authority over the child.