Rock stars tickle me. They can be the ugliest, mangiest looking guys on earth, but it is obvious they are absolutely convinced they are the best looking guys around! The constant adulation places them in a godlike place in the eyes of themselves and others.
Other than a rock star, movie idol or politician, the headiest job on earth is being the parent of a pre-schooler. Let’s face it, when our kids are that age – we are perfect. Granted, they don’t have a lot to compare us to, but being perfect in someone’s eyes still feels pretty cool.
The main reason our very small children adore us is because we have all of the power and they have none. In their world, we are rock stars because we have the food, clean diapers and warm, loving arms they need and want. Your average, good parents would have no reason or desire to abuse that power by withholding food or clean diapers from their children.
Yet, for many parents, what starts out as a benevolent use of power becomes a power struggle between those same children (now a little older and wiser) and the parents who once nurtured them without question. So what changes?
I recently heard Andy Crouch speak at an event about power and the abuse of power. (You need to read his book Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power to get a more thorough understanding, but I will try to give you some of the most powerful nuggets I gleaned from him.) Power actually comes from the all-powerful – God. Yet man, has misunderstood God’s intent in creating us in His image and granting us dominion over the rest of creation.
God meant for our power to be harnessed to love, just as Jesus’ power was shared with the woman who touched the hem of his garment to be healed. Jesus did not lose his power because some of it flowed to the woman and healed her. Rather his power was shared – her power to heal increased and his power remained constant. Jesus understood that, because His power was harnessed to his love for the woman.
That in essence is a healthy power relationship. A teacher shares her power with her students to increase their power to understand the world and gain the skills they need to succeed. She does not lose power because she loves and nurtures her students. In fact, her power is multiplied as she and her students partner together in various productive ways.
That was the role parents are supposed to have with our children. Nurturing their talents, gifts and abilities and pointing them towards God. Unfortunately, to have that productive, loving power arrangement, parents have to be vulnerable. And that is where many parents falter.
In his book, Crouch points out that those in unhealthy power relationships are setting themselves up to be idols. He studied various societies throughout history who worshipped idols. One of the characteristics all of the idols had was a fear of exposing vulnerability. As a result, they had to resort to lies, manipulations, control and the taking of power from others in order to continue to appear invulnerable to their followers.
Leaders, including parents, are susceptible to the same temptations. Our children, who once viewed us as perfect, suddenly begin to see our flaws – some real and some imagined. (Amy Grant once said her kids refused to let her sing around them because they thought she had a horrible voice!) Most of the time we can take the fall from perfection in stride and even with a sense of humor.
Sometimes, the sting of our children pointing out our flaws is partnered in our mind with their increasing independence and our all too rapidly advancing age. To some parents, the independence their children are supposed to be developing is viewed as a threat to the power base of the parent. Unknowingly, they have placed themselves in the position of idol in the lives of their children.
These parents think that in order to retain the respect and love of their children, they have to retain the power. They no longer think of themselves as a teacher being able to share power without losing it, but as an idol who must retain all of the power. Any power given to the children must be draining the power away from the parent.
The result is a parent who attempts to manipulate their children. A parent who demands to control all of the decisions of their children. A parent who will do anything – even sacrifice a healthy relationship with their children – in an attempt to retain their power.
The next time you find yourself trying to manipulate or control your older child, stop for a minute. Is this really about your children making a poor decision or more about your efforts to have your children turn to you for every decision – giving you that enticing all powerful place in their lives?
The irony is idols never have a meaningful, healthy relationship with their followers. To have that sort of relationship, you have to be willing to be vulnerable and be willing to share your power with others. You have to be willing to teach and empower. Willing to partner your power with great love. Only when you are able to do that will you have the relationship with your children God intended and that your heart really desires.
Please note: I am not talking about the healthy discipline of children. This discussion is about behaviors like insisting on choosing your child’s major in college (usually involving none of your child’s actual talents and interests), forcing children to play the parent’s favorite sport, or otherwise making choices for your children and forcing your children to do something against their will at an age when they are wise enough to make that decision on their own.
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