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Nevena LovrinÄ?ević

Who Is the Boss in Your House? On (lost) parental authority and how to (re)gain it

Illustrated by Marko Somborac


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Contents Introduction..................................................................................... 7 Distribution of Power in a Family........................................... 10 Authority, Power and Influence............................................... 12 Authority and Voluntary Consent............................................ 19 Why Parents Do Not Have Authority................................... 24 Parenting Styles 31 Authoritative or Authoritarian?............................................... 35 Setting Boundaries..................................................................... 40 Non-Verbal Messages and Authority..................................... 46 How a Parent Feels...................................................................... 51 How a Child Feels........................................................................ 58 How Much Obedience Is Enough?........................................... 63


The Kinds of Behavior We Want and the Ones We Do Not Want......................................................................... 67 The Tactics Employed by Children.......................................... 70 Ineffective Parental Methods................................................... 76 Effective Parental Methods...................................................... 82 1, 2, 3! + Time Out......................................................................... 83 Enticement and Support........................................................... 87 (Re)Gain Your Authority.......................................................... 90 Parenting and Enjoyment......................................................... 96 Conclusion.................................................................................... 100 About the Author...................................................................... 102


Introduction

To be the boss – to be the master of the situation. SASA1 Dictionary “I’m ashamed to say it, but I hate Friday afternoons and can’t wait for Monday morning to go to work… I dread going home because I never know what I will find there. I feel helpless. My son is only three years old, but, although there are three of us adults in the house, he is the sole ruler of there. I have to be careful not only to do and say what he wants, but also to do it the way he wants it in order not to upset him. He simply throws a tantrum or sulks and whines whenever he doesn’t get his own way until I do what he wants. I often get the impression that he alone doesn’t know what he wants. He decides who will sit where, who will do what, who will give him a bath, when he’ll go to sleep, what he’ll eat… Time and again I await his reaction, literally dreading it. I keep trying to 1

Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts

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resolve problems by talking them through, but nothing essentially changes. Sometimes my husband loses his temper, gets mad and spanks him. I am more inclined to yell at him uncontrollably and shake him when I don’t know what to do. All this, however, is not helping at all, and we feel even worse… I’ve always wanted to have two children, and now I can barely cope with the one I have. I can’t imagine there could be more of them…” Sandy, mother of three-year-old Alex Who is the boss in your house? Boss is probably not the word you would want to use when referring to any of your family members. However, this is exactly the word which best describes the reality of the situation and the distribution of power within a family: a child (even though barely knee-high) has more decision power than his parents, despite the fact that they are the ones who get up at the break of dawn, make breakfast, go to work, take the child from nursery school, in a word – take care of the child. The described situation may seem comic or as exaggeration, but the parents who have little dictators living in their house know exactly how exhausting such a state of affairs in a family can be. They fear their child knowing that even the smallest thing can provoke a fit of anger or whimsical behavior. They know that eventually things are going to turn out the way the child has determined – no matter how bad they may feel or how much they talk to their child; no matter how angry or enraged they get, even if they hit the child. Whether it is bedtime, treats before lunch, refus8


ing to pick up the toys and make the bed, or a curfew, the parents who find themselves in similar situations often give up trying to keep their children in order, feeling tired and discouraged; they ask themselves if their endeavor has any meaning and sometimes look for excuses in some reasons which are beyond their grasp (the child’s temperament, bad influence of school, grandparents who have spoiled the child, effects of economic crisis, the society‌). Nevertheless, there is one essential thing that one should bear in mind: If the child has all the power in your family, it is because you, the parents, gave it to the child. The good news is that just as you gave it, you can take it away. And it would be done not only to your great satisfaction and relief, but also for the well-being of your child!

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Distribution of Power in a Family

Picture your great-grandmother chasing your three-yearold grandfather around the yard with a spoon in her hand: “Wait, that wasn’t the deal! Now it’s time for lunch, and you’ll play later… Come on, do as mommy says! Here, take one bite… open up the tunnel, here comes the train… choo-choo… That wasn’t the deal!” In addition, she has four or five more children, and has no vacuum cleaner, washing machine or dishwasher. Imagine, then, your great-great-grandfather as your thirteenyear-old great-grandmother is telling him: “I’m so not setting the table! Can’t you see I’m on the phone?!” Of course, you cannot imagine such situations because something like that would have been impossible! Until 30 – 40 years ago the question of who sets the rules in a family would have been completely out of place since parental authority was undisputed. You probably would not want to go back in a time machine to that period when your great-great-grandmother or greatgrandfather lived (not just because they did not have a washing machine and a dishwasher!) and do not want your child to kiss your hand as a sign of respect, address you formally and stand still with his eyes set on the floor if you are angry. You 10


want something else: to have a warm, close and open relationship with your child. Although at times, when your child is being quite a handful, you find yourself thinking that the traditional model of upbringing maybe was not so bad after all. Indeed, is it possible to have a warm and close relationship based on trust, and still (mostly) know who the authority in the house is? And is it possible that you could be the authority? The good news is that a thing like that is possible; the not-so-good news is that a state like that is not going to emerge by itself. It is up to you, parents, to realize that kind of relationship in the family to the degree that will suit you and your child. That is certainly possible, and the sooner you start sorting things out, the easier it will be for you. Before we get to regaining or establishing authority in the family, we will consider the following questions for a while: Does it matter at all? And why does it matter? 11


Authority, Power and Influence

Who is the grown-up here, and who is small? The question of a psychologist addressed during a counseling session to parents and their five-year-old son, who were previously asked to stand up

The essence of parental authority is the same as with any other authority: it is the matter of supremacy. It is important to say that the question of supremacy and parental authority is not just a superficial matter of showing others who the boss is, but a question fundamental to upbringing. Discipline is an unavoidable aspect of good parenting, and if a parent does not have authority, he or she does not have appropriate influence on the child, and therefore cannot manage discipline in the desired way. Naturally, parents will not impose their will on their child just for the sake of assuming an air of authority, but because in certain situations (according to the child’s age and maturity), they know better than the child what is good for her, and what is bad and what are her needs. Can one eat sweets immoderately and before lunch; is it all right to hit someone; can a socket be probed by a nail; can a fourteen-year-old child 12


stay partying with friends until three in the morning; can one avoid homework assignments…? – there are innumerable situations with which parents have to deal on a daily basis, in which they have to confront their child’s will and exert parental authority. If we were to let a child decide, he might find himself in dangerous or damaging circumstances, either in the short or in the long run. By nature, a child does not look at it that way. But, life experience, maturity and the position in a family are on the parent’s side, so that the parent is the one who, considering a given situation, will conclude if the situation in question is such that the child could be assigned the responsibility of decision and to what degree; if a compromise could be enough, or the parent alone would make a decision. Therefore, if we go back to the beginning of this chapter and ask: Who is the grown-up here, and who is small? some dilemmas cease to be so. Simply, the role and position of a parent are such that a parent and a child cannot be equal in making decisions concerning what kind of behavior 13


Who is the Boss in the House