Helping our children learn to submit to legitimate authority and understand rights and responsibilities

11 Mar

Sounds high and lofty, no? I apologize to those expecting something more authoritative. Just trying to live out the principles, and here’s how it sometimes goes.

Having rejoiced in my previous post at a certain harmony established with one daughter, I now tell another tale, about a confrontation resulting in my confiscating the smart phone she uses–as distinct from “her smart phone,”as she calls it–due to her not fulfilling household duties and showing proper respect to other household members. Sloth and sass, one could say. Let’s see if we can make any headway here, in a realm in which I remember well being on the other side, and my parents having not really won the battle. It’s a battle not of parents against children, but parents for children, against their lower instincts, right? Helping them overcome. Now as an adult I’m on my own in my own battle not to be slothful and sassy, but I do want to help my kids along too, maybe give them an advantage for the future. And we parents who like to expect everyone to be reasonable and come around on their own have to force ourselves to be more assertive at times like these. They respect us more in the end, and appreciate the help with overcoming their vices. Strange but true.

We did explain that the phones (given to the three oldest) were lent, on condition that they pulled their weight and kept good relations with all family members as they were able. Yeah, yeah, whatever, might have been the thought. What kid being handed a wonderful toy ever thinks, “My, those are reasonable conditions, and I should consider whether I really intend to fulfill them”, etc..? Still, the dotted line was, figuratively, signed.

We have confiscated devices a few times before, but not effectively. Have had to face the implied challenge of a physical wrestling match (“No! You can’t have it! It’s mine!”) by waiting and swooping in when said phone was untended, or by cutting off service, changing network password, etc. Then yielding to a reasonable-sounding request–need to text a friend about homework, want to listen to calming music, etc., after hardly any time had passed. The lesson was not learned, the bedroom was still a wreck, the chores still undone. Their unspoken conclusion was, “Well, I guess I can get away with that without too much grief.”

But this time I just stood my ground, unmoved by shrieking, and insisted, insisted, insisted that she give me the phone, that it was a privilege and had conditions. And she actually yielded, with a snarl; I got the phone. I was frankly surprised! But she assured me that this wouldn’t work, would make it even less likely that she’d do what I wanted. And I was being totally unfair, because the other daughter still had her phone, and hadn’t cleaned up her room either. So tempting to justify, and I usually try, but this time, I just said, “This is about you, not about her, and I’m trying to teach you something important right now that will help you in life. I’ll do my best with each of you, but that’s not your concern.” Goodness, she should be thanking me for coming down on her–parents who love their children discipline them, as the Bible says.

Then she went through device withdrawal, and reverted to some childish methods to try to intimidate–yelling, accusing, dumping her glass of water on the floor, knocking over chairs, provoking siblings,slamming doors, even the silent treatment (not her specialty), refusing to answer when spoken to. All with an appearance of fury, but, in reality, not uncontrolled. She’s not throwing anything through the plate glass living room windows, after all, or doing any personal violence, knocked over a chair, not a lamp, and so on. I tend to wait this out–it’s no time to talk, after all when she’s in the “reptilian brain.” Just take note of things she’ll have to fix or clean up, or I will.

I wrote down the requirements for her to get back her phone and conditions on which she was keeping it. Specifically, clean up her room, acknowledge the legitimate authority of us as parents, be respectful of everyone, do some household chores for the common good. By the next afternoon, the paper had a hand-torn fringe, but she had cleaned up her room, done her chores, and politely asked for the phone. and of course I gave it to her.

All the reasoning of this process, and the waiting out of tantrums and her apparent suffering for the lack of her phone were pretty easy for me, but that part where I had to stand there and insist, not give up, dictate, act like a solid rock, that was hard. I can count on one hand the times I remember doing that properly. But as I said, every time I stayed strong for my kids, stood up to them, calmly set a firm limit or consequence, those were the times there was some kind of breakthrough in their ability to respect me as a parent, as well as their sense of security. It’s like they thank me silently from their soul for being strong when they can”t be.


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2 responses to “Helping our children learn to submit to legitimate authority and understand rights and responsibilities

  1. jdawgsrunningblog

    March 12, 2014 at 5:48 am

    Well done on all levels—with the writing, the thinking–and the tightrope of conscious parenting. I applaud this work.

  2. toesinthedirt

    March 16, 2014 at 10:12 pm

    I bow with thanks.


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