From Authority to Friendship


Parenting is a process.

As your child grows, changes, and develops, then the strategy that you employ must also adapt to your child’s new reality.

I’m pretty confident that just about every person who reads this and is a parent or thinking about being a parent wants what is best for their child. We all hope that our children will not repeat our mistakes or even possibly endure the things we had to endure growing up.

That is a great hope. It is love for our offspring. (As an aside, I’ve written before that all our children are broken image bearers, and our attempts to be perfect parents are attempts to be our children’s savior. Even our best parenting efforts conflict with fundamental human self-centeredness.)

The process of parenting has three general phases:

Authority —> Influence —> Friendship

Authority is the span of time when your parenting through consequences. Whether it is spanking or time-out or losing a privilege, there is a known consequence for undesired behavior. This is the time of socialization; how to become part of the culture. Understanding the boundaries and workings of the family system.

In the influence phase, the child is transitioning from an understanding of physical authority to conceptual authority. There are laws. Right and wrong, and wrong is not always judged by a painful consequence.

Parenting in the influence phase is dominated by trust. Listening and asking questions. It may look like coaching or mentoring, but it gets to the point of not explicitly telling the child what to do. Letting them experience the consequences of their decisions. This is a time to increasingly expression compassion, empathy, and vulnerability, for we were once all awkward teenagers too.

Finally, we get to experience friendship – or genuine relationship – with our children. Less and less dependence by our children as more and more of their time is spent out of the home. Coming into their own autonomy.

Transitions from phase to phase differ depending upon the child, so don’t look for a hard and fast rule (i.e. starting influencing at age 8!) and likewise, the transitions will be gradual. For instance, a gradual decrease of firm authority coupled with a gradual increase in influence.

Identity affects our parenting. If we are relying on our kids being ‘good’ or ‘behaving’ to sustain our sense of self, it hinders the transitions.

Because worth may be determined by how obedient the child is, the authority phase may be hard to leave. But, what happens when children begin hear other voices and have other relationships outside the home? The tension and anxiety may become overwhelming as the child tries to reconcile the two selves they have to become.

The same is true if we as parents have a hard time letting go of the influence phase, where we may no longer be the dominant voice our child listens to. Be it a spouse, pastor, or someone else, we will at some point have to trust our children.

And that is the point. None of us will be perfect parents. We’ll have times when fly off the handle. Then we’ll need to repent. We’ll make mistakes in judgement. Then we’ll ask forgiveness. We are human.

Our job, as those who are striving to develop an identity in Christ, it to help our kids develop their identity in Christ. Helping them to understand that their worth is secure because Christ loves them. And He demonstrated it.

Then they will have a foundation to return to as they navigate their own life beyond our reach.

What have been the challenges of each of the stages of your parenting that you have experienced?

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