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Discipline: Establishing Authority

Discipline: Establishing Authority

4 minutes

Some years ago, I taught the Confirmation class for our parish religious education program.  The class was never rowdy or rude; my students were attentive and engaged – a pleasure to teach.  A lovely lady from the parish volunteered to substitute when I was away one weekend.  The following week, she told me the class had misbehaved so terribly that they had reduced her to tears.  To tears!  I was horrified and insisted each student apologize individually to her, but I was also quite surprised.  What had turned my model students into monster brats?  The answer was NOT that I exercised better control over the class; I didn’t feel that I had to control them at all.  They just seemed to mind me.

My “secret” was that, from the very first moments, I had established my clear authority over the class.  Using confident body language, a firm and friendly tone, and a no-nonsense attitude, I let them know, right from the start, that I was in charge.  The students and I had an unspoken agreement, that I would provide them with what they needed to be confirmed, and they in turn would pay courteous attention.  That being settled, we could all enjoy our time together – and we did.

The same principle applies to family life.  Mom and Dad lovingly, but firmly, set the rules and the kids obey.  Once that is understood and accepted, we can eliminate begging, whining, crying, arguing, yelling – well, mostly eliminate them – and family life becomes a pleasure.

A National Emergency

It is certainly no secret that American parents (taken as a whole; there are some lovely exceptions) have not accepted their own authority over their children. As a result, instead of enjoying family life, they find childcare a stressful burden, and home life an endless round of begging, pleading, ignoring, cajoling, and hollering in an effort to make their children behave.  In our nation’s public schools, educational journals claim that as much as half of a teacher’s time is spent in “classroom management,” thus wasting the taxpayers’ money and robbing better-behaved students of the education they deserve.  In public, loud bratty children often turn dining out, shopping, or even a trip to the library, church, or park, into a major headache for parents and innocent bystanders.  No one, not even a person with no children, is safe from public tantrums.  Out-of-control kids are fast becoming the problem of every citizen.

The American Way?

We Americans value independence and autonomy as virtues, and hope our children will grow up to value them as well.  For decades, child professionals have warned us that strong discipline and authoritative parents risk turning children into fearful little robots who will lack self-esteem, initiative, and imagination.  Experts advise us not to inflict our own will on our kids, but to let them make their own choices.  Misbehavior is simply a step in the growing-up process, a sign of immaturity that will be somehow magically resolved by the passage of time.

Actually, misbehavior is an opportunity for parents to establish their own authority and then use that authority to inculcate better patterns of conduct.  In other words, parents take their longer life experience, their better judgment, their more developed sense of right and wrong, and the high expectations they hold for their children, and then they teach them virtuous right living.  The key is not to form the children’s will to robotically obey their parents.  Rather it is to form their hearts and minds so they do the right thing, on their own, with less and less direction from their mothers and fathers, as the years go by.

Wisdom of the Ages

The wisdom of the ages, as well as our own good common sense, tells us this is the path to follow.  Our great-grandmothers would have scratched their heads in bewilderment had we asked them if our children should respect and obey us.  Although often lacking the benefits of a formal education, our ancestors knew it was not the role of parents to provide children with momentary happiness—or themselves with momentary peace—by satisfying every demand.  They accepted that during childhood parents had the responsibility, even the sacred obligation, to teach their children a host of virtues beginning with obedience and respect.

As children grew and matured, they inculcated courtesy, industriousness, honesty, sincerity, purity, modesty, humility, selflessness, resourcefulness, and many more good habits of life.  Our forebears knew that upright living was the source of a happy and productive life here on Earth, and eternal joy in Heaven.  Parents understood that virtuous children are a joy to bring up, a source of gratification when they reach adulthood, and a comfort to their parents during their final years.  I suspect our forebears often meditated on the Proverb, “A wise son makes his father glad, but a foolish son is a grief to his mother” (Prov. 10:1).

God’s Will for His People

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This proverb is still true and is confirmed by Judeo-Christian doctrine and tradition.  “Honor thy father and thy mother” is the first of the Commandments that regulate how God’s people are to treat one another.  So important were well-ordered families to Hebrew life that the Law of Moses ordered that, “Whoever curses his father or mother shall be put to death” (Ex. 21:17).  God tells the Israelites to “Revere your mother and father” (Lev. 19:3).  Parents have the obligation to instruct their children.  “Raise up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6).  Children have the responsibility to obey.  “Hear, my son, your father’s instructions, and reject not your mother’s teachings” (Prov. 1:8).  In his letter to the Colossians, St. Paul confirms this teaching for the early Christians: “Children, obey your parents in all things, for that is pleasing to the Lord” (Col. 3:20).

Mothers and fathers can assume their rightful authority over their children in the confident knowledge that Catholic teaching requires it and the experience of generations of parents confirms it.  Everyday family life becomes more peaceful and serene, as children are a joy, not a burden.  Best of all, parents are preparing their children to be responsible citizens in this world and saints in the next.

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About Ginny Seuffert

Ginny Seuffert
Ginny Seuffert has been a leading writer and speaker about homeschooling and Catholic family life for more than two decades. She has given hundreds of talks at conferences and written three books. Meet Ginny | Ginny's Books
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