Parents and Power

I never really dated (how I ended up married is a story for another day), but apparently there’s a dating-related addage about judging your date not by how he treats you, but by how he treats the waiter. [I’m nice to waiters, if you were wondering]. I suppose the thinking is that people are always on their best behaviour when they’re trying to impress someone, but their true character can be seen more clearly in relationships in which they have the power to get away with anything.

As many other addages have pointed out, power is a corrupting force, and few people have the strength of character to resist being vile when they won’t be held accountable. It’s why we are ruder over email, and more vulgar behind the wheel.

In the same way that we often think that greed is only a rich-person’s problem, it’s easy enough to think that abuse of power is a vice that only the powerful can exercise. It occurred to me today, however, that all of us who are parents are at the apex of one of the most asymmetrical and easily abused power relationships there is. Why is it that, in spite of loving my kids more than anything else, I shout at them more than anyone else too? Why do they suffer more of my grumpiness, laziness, impatience etc. than anyone on the planet?

Sure, I have to be a parent and discipline them, and kids are frankly deeply annoying at times, but none of that necessitates a bad attitude from me. At work or at church, I’m able to hold my tongue, measure my tone, and if necessary apologise, and the people there are annoying too. Fact is, parents hold all the power, with almost no accountability. Much more than waiters, kids are a great barometer for what we really are like as people.


2 thoughts on “Parents and Power

  1. Taryn says:

    So very true – a good indication of how depraved we are and how much in need of a Saviour. And kids have a nasty habit of not really learning the first time around (or the second, third or billionth!) which is why I’ve found it helpful to try remember that the discipline process is quite possibly more about my own sanctification than for their edification. A tad easier to cope with the same sinful behaviour from the kids when one views it as another opportunity to practise being godly ourselves! On another note – hope you are well. From my convo with R, it sounds like you’ve had a rough start to the year, but with many blessing mixed in there too.

  2. Richard says:

    Speak for yourself, you cruel and malevolent tyrant! ;-)

    I think I’ve got lots of look forward to in the coming years, so I’m thinking that what I’m seeing in an 18 month old is just the warmup round. After watching SuperNanny (who is very big on timeouts) I’m keen to try going that route because I worry that if I resorted to dishing out hidings, my own frustration may lead to hidings that are more severe than they ought to have been. In many ways it feels like I’m bumbling my way through parenthood, trying to find out what works and what doesn’t.

    But I try to remember that Josh is God’s gift and I have no right to a good 80 years from him. The Lord may take him today, next year or in 20 years and I should rejoice for the wonderful times I did have with him. So far, reminding myself of this is helping me to weather the worst of the tantrums but I’ll keep your post in mind as the little one dials up the naughtiness.

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