We are familiar with power in its many forms – the crane that can lift a 400 lb. beam, the chief executive who oversees a large company, or the electrical substation that provides current to thousands of homes. Then there is the power of being a dad.
Personal power vs. power over
Power is an awesome force. It can support dreams, lift burdens, change directions, and impact relationships. When it comes to being a father, our experience has taught us to use it lightly and to distinguish authority from manipulation.
You discover significant influence when you become a dad. As children grow, they look up to you, emulate you, listen to your word, follow your lead, and mind your example. You have a great deal of sway in guiding your children, and affecting their attitudes, beliefs, and behavior. (Of course, all this goes out the window when they become teens!)
Using this power to provide a good example, help assess options, guide decision making, and develop strong character is a formidable responsibility of being a dad. This conversion of your personal power to your child’s development is a high aim of being a good father.
Using your fatherly power to manipulate, strong-arm, depress, discourage, or control is ineffective and damaging to your child’s success and to your relationship.
We can both recall times when we stepped closer to power over than power in support of our children. Whether it was insisting on a tryout for the basketball team, or arguing with a decision to pull out of the school play, or (as we’ve heard from many parents) fighting over sticking with a problematic boyfriend or girlfriend, we can quickly identify those points where we’d like to return and have a “do-over.”
Honoring decisions as well as commitments
One thing we found helpful is to involve our children in decisions that carry commitments. For example, in the middle of the year when Bill’s son wanted to pull out of piano lessons that they had both discussed and agreed to, Bill emphasized that 1) this was a decision his son had entered into willingly, 2) the lessons were a commitment that should be fulfilled, and 3) it wasn’t a lifetime commitment; there would be an opportunity at the end of the term when the decision could be reviewed.
This three-part solution was applied in a number of situations. Both of Bill’s sons learned to enter into decisions carefully, fulfill commitments, and make sure there was a time period after which they could renew their decision or make another one.
Parental power needs to be exercised with care. If your son or daughter gains competence and self-esteem from the power you hold, you can be pretty sure that you are using it in the right way.