The authority parents hold over their children is, ultimately, an illusion. Sure, custom and law both aid parental authority. But once children reach their teens, their submission to their parents is a choice. An unconscious or reflexive choice maybe, but a choice all the same.
At its base, the parent-child relationship is a trade. A trade augmented, of course, by the fiercest love between humans that may exist, and that only evolution can deliver. As kids enter their teens and begin to pass into adulthood, the relationship between them and their parents becomes an exchange.
That exchange can be based on one of two things. On fear, dictation, and discipline, or on mutual respect, benefit, and generally positive incentives. In this, it’s not all that different than any market transaction. A healthy transaction in the market place is based on a perception of equal footing. Both parties coming to the table because they have something to gain. Mutual agreement for mutual benefit.
Now, this may sound frightful to many parents. Naive even.
But it isn’t.
I don’t have kids. I couldn’t possibly understand the unconditional love, protectiveness, pride, and joy that comes with bringing someone into this world and raising them as your own. But at the end of the day they are not your own. When they are little maybe, but I would wager to say that once they reach 10-12 and above, they are much further down the road to adulthood than we give them credit for.
As scary as it is, this is a good thing. Because relationships built on mutual trust, respect, and benefit are always superior.
My dad always says that he and my mom gave me and my sister the rope to hang ourselves with…or not. I never appreciated that as much as I do now.
Sure, I appreciated the freedom that mentality afforded me while actually growing up. But now I appreciate the bigger picture of what it actually means. My parents have become two of my best friends. And looking back on it, this has been the case for quite a long time.
By middle school and high school age, I listened to them because it was useful to me. I wasn’t much afraid (at least by high school) of getting into trouble. I did my own thing. I did things they probably would not have approved of at that time. But on the important stuff I listened to them because I knew it was in my benefit to do so. I operated within my own framework, but that framework was heavily based on the mutual respect that existed between me and my parents.
I did what they said in most situations not because I felt I had to, but because I saw the value in it. This is how I continue to operate. I know they love me, I know they have more experience than me, I know they respect me. This is why I heed their advice and direction when they give it.
Like all legitimate authority, my parents’ was and is based on superior experience and voluntary interaction. And I only have my own life to go on, but I would venture to say that that is the proper way.
Your kids are people. By their teens they are adults. If only you’d let them be. Treat them as adults and they will act like adults. Show them the value in listening to you and they will listen. If they don’t, take that as a lesson that what you are trying to impart into them is not something they feel is useful, or the manner by which you are trying to impart it is not one they find helpful. And respect that.
The relationship is a trade. And if you bring a gun to a business transaction, the chances are both parties are going to leave unsatisfied. Give them the freedom to try what they want, to fail, to get hurt, to experience true success. If you attempt to dominate them all you will breed are dependent children. Treat them with respect and dignity and you will raise respectful, dignified, independent adults. Adults who value your judgement and opinion because it is useful to them, not because they’re trained to experience pain if they don’t.
Cheers mom and dad, I love you.