parenting with authority vs. authoritarian parenting


Welcome to Part seven of our series, "You Are Not a Victim, You're a Mom."Today we're talking about our PARENTAL POWER! Actually, that's not entirely true. We're talking about the victim tendency to feel powerless - and the desperate and destructive ways we grasp for that ever elusive power.

Perhaps you're on that teeter-totter, with your belly doing flip flops all day long. One moment you're up, enjoying the view, parenting well, feeling stable and secure, but then suddenly you plummet... losing your sense of power and purpose all over again.


He threw his scooter down, clenched his fists and cried big tears. All 52 pounds of him was tense and ready for battle, as he tilted his chiseled little chin and dared me to make him.

I took a deep breath then repeated in gentle tones, "Son, it's time to come in and clean up for dinner."

"It's not fair! I was at school all day. I just want to play! I'm not going come in now and I won't."

"I'm not going to... and I won't!" Doesn't that just about sum up the strong-willed child?

And with that he collapsed into a puddle of tears and snot, right there on the asphalt in our driveway. He kicked his helmet to the curb, flopped onto his back, and wailed over the injustice of it all.

Of course, when I take this singular event out of the context of our very full life, I can smirk. Watching him transform into an emotional mess over having to wash his hands and come to the table is actually a little humorous. Bless his heart - all the drama! He's a child, after all, just being childish - and he needs the long-suffering heart of a mother, to keep help him on his road to maturity.

I can do that.

I can do that.

I can handle it!

What I mean to say is: I know how to handle it. Intellectually. One mothering moment at a time.

I know that good mothering requires kind compassion and calm confidence during these stress-filled moments. I know that good parenting is rich with words that build a child up, in order to help them discover their own strength to do the right thing. I know that I am not a victim when they throw a fit, I'm just a mom. Unfortunately, all that good head knowledge melts away in the hours preceding dinner and bedtime, because, sometimes, this mom gets worn out too. And as I lose my physical and emotional strength, I lose my sense of parental strength. That's right, you know where I'm going... victims tend to feel powerless.

angry man -authoritarian
angry man -authoritarian

When exhaustion sets in and multi-tasking makes a mother's weary head spin, that one kid isn't just one kid, but one of many brothers, and that one melt-down isn't just one melt-down, but a string of strong-willed fits ricocheting back and forth between children all afternoon. And dinner's getting cold and there's no way I can get the oldest to karate tonight if my husband doesn't make it home from work soon...

The pressure starts to mount and my strength begins to wain.

However, I stay calm and collected, as I walk to the littlest of my children, still splayed across the driveway. I put my hand on his cheek and tell him that I know he's able to get his things picked up and come in. I remind him of his own strength to keep on doing right.

Miracle of miracles he believes my encouragement, hugs me, asks for forgiveness and goes to gather his things.

Just then the sound of my other two boys, arguing in the garage over who was supposed to take the trash bags up the driveway, works like the proverbial straw that broke this Mama's back. I come undone, in an instant.

Heat floods my face. Tears prick my eyes.

In that one moment, I decide (without really thinking it through) that I've had enough. My last good moment of parenting is behind me for the night! I glare at the older two, tell them, "I don't want to hear about it! Both of you grab a trash bag and take them up to the street then clean up for dinner! And if you argue again, you can just..." That's when I stop parenting and start threatening!

That's what we do when we lose our sense of God-given authority to parent well - we stop parenting and start threatening. And that's exactly what happened that sad afternoon I stormed into my house to reheat the chicken.

There at the microwave, watching the pyrex dish circle round and round, I melted into a bigger, uglier puddle than the one my child had made just a few short mothering moments before.

I stood there feeling powerless, shoulders slumped and slightly shaking, as all the good parenting head knowledge collected at my feet.

authoritarian pic
authoritarian pic

Here are three things I discovered about personal parental power.

1) Almost always, inappropriate displays of power explode from feelings of powerlessness. 

Moms seldom lash out when they have a secure sense of their own authority. It is from that place that we must parent one good, solid, kind, right, loving moment at a time. Though the storm clouds continue to threaten and the waves toss us hither and yon as the sun sinks low, we know the One who calms the sea. He is the God who put us at the helm of our home each mothering day. A healthy understanding of our God-given role allows us to remain calm and controlled when our children continue to be children... When we lose sight of our true role (to parent) we begin feeling like victims.

2) All the good head knowledge in the world will fail you if you don't have a plan to parent right when they're behaving wrong.

What does being the authority in your home actually look like during the stressful moments? While authoritarian parenting is all about quick obedience and harsh consequences, parenting with a healthy sense of one's God-given authority looks like one mature, loving choice after another, all day long - and sometimes through the nighttime hours too. Let me suggest, here and now, that you choose just one recurring conflict in your home, and decide (in this moment of peace,) with the help of your good mothering head-knowledge, how you want to respond from here on out? The plan is simple, moms and dads, but first you must make a plan!

3) Study God's calm and kind approach to parenting.

Again and again we see God parent His people Israel, not as an angry, punishing authoritarian, but as a loving father concerned about His children's slow-growing spiritual maturity. Over and over again He reaches out to them with covenant promises of love. Even in their discipline, when they are removed to painful "time outs," He reminds them of His love, and the overwhelming promise that God the Father desires an intimate and ongoing, right relationship with His kids. God uses His parental power appropriately, not to chase us away - but to chase us down! This is redemption!

Of course, we cannot save our kids, where true salvation is concerned, but we can emulate our Heavenly Father by parenting just like Him... with a calm and kind, long-suffering sense of our role as parents - one mothering moment at a time.


Our current series, "You are not a victim, you're a mom" is inspired by the new book TRIGGERS: Exchanging Parents' Angry Reactions for Gentle Biblical Responses.  If you struggle with anger in your home from the sheer effort of it all, if you find yourself yelling at your little ones, feeling like a victim, and weighed down by shame, I encourage to order your copy of Triggers today. I’ll continue speaking to this confusing issue of Mommy-Anger in the weeks ahead. If you'd like to receive this series directly to your inbox, click here!