PARENTING: Authority is grounded in relationship

How many times have we heard people (even the experts) say that parents should not be their kids’ best friends? But what the experts really mean is that parents shouldn’t sacrifice their position of authority and their role of leadership to win favor with their children.

It’s an important distinction because the truth is that an intimate and healthy relationship with our kids helps lay the foundation for true authority (leadership and influence).

Author and speaker Josh McDowell says, “Truth without relationships leads to rejection, rules without relationships lead to rebellion, discipline without relationship leads to bitterness, anger and resentment.”

A healthy and close relationship with our kids must trump everything else. Our kids should feel celebrated in our homes and not just tolerated.

But, if we’re being honest, we have to say that it is not always easy to like our kids all the time. Of course, we always love them, but liking them is another story. It’s not easy to enjoy the 3-year-old who is demanding his way and holding his breath and stomping his feet. For some people, it’s not easy to endure the incessant flow of questions from the curious and chatty 8-year-old. It’s not easy to enjoy the angst-filled teen who barely grunts out one word answers to our questions.

But if we recognize that each season — including the less than desirable ones — is part of their growth, part of their journey, we can be intentional about connecting with our kids in all seasons.

It’s easier to celebrate the belligerent 3-year-old when we recognize that he only recently discovered that he has choices and he is still trying to figure out where his boundaries lie as he exercises free will. We can be firm without being harsh, reminding the 3-year-old that he must obey authority even when he doesn’t like it but remembering that the contentious little brute stomping his feet in defiance is also the precious little child who melts your heart every day.

The precocious 8-year-old who tends to wear you down quickly with her endless list of questions is building an intricate framework in her mind. One day, in the not-so-far future, she will become one of your favorite people to talk to. She will amaze you with her insights and entertain you with her wit. And the truth is, if you make a deliberate effort to listen carefully to her when she is 8, she will be much more likely to listen to you when she is 18.

If we can remember, as the melancholy and cantankerous teen shuffles by, that he is trying to manage a cacophony of emotions that he doesn’t understand while also trying to figure out how he feels about himself and how he wants his peers to perceive him, we will be less likely to take his moodiness personally. And when he has those moments of cheerfulness and enthusiasm, we will be ready to enjoy them with him.

Ultimately, true authority is birthed out of an intimate relationship. So perhaps we should be our child’s best friend.

Jenni Stahlmann and Jody Hagaman are mothers with nine children between them, from an attorney to a pre-schooler, and one on the autism spectrum. Together they host a nationally syndicated radio show, “POP Parenting.” They are also freelance writers and international speakers. Get more information on their website,


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