Most people don't know I used to be a politician. I spent my days conducting opinion polls, canvassing voters, and working on "spin" for policies I knew would not be popular. I was a tireless negotiator, willing to compromise when necessary but making every effort to hold to my principles and policies.
Sadly, my career was not particularly successful. My constituency was never satisfied, and to express their ever-growing demands, they continually staged protests and riots. After years of failure to persuade the voters that I knew what I was doing, I decided on a career change.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m speaking of the way I used to parent. I eventually had five children, but even when there was only one, I did what most parents do–I tried to explain to my children why they should obey me. They never caught on. Not once did any of them ever say, “You’re right, mom! I see what you mean! I’ll do it your way from now on.”
I rarely told them to do anything. I asked, suggested, hinted, prodded, nagged, cajoled, and even begged on rare occasions. Often I’d begin my request with “Let’s” or “How about” and ended with “okay?” For example, “Hey, kids, let’s get ready for bed, okay?” or “How about you pick up your toys now, okay?” These kids weren’t dumb. They could tell there was no authority in what I was saying, I was just asking them nicely to do something. Given an option, they’d choose “no” every time.
I soon got tired of “political” life, constantly testing the wind to see if they seemed in the mood to obey, the incessant attempt to spin my instructions to seem like something my kids would be excited to do, always bracing myself for the next “demonstration” or riot.
I finally realized the ultimate authority himself–God–had given me my job. That meant I didn’t need to win anybody’s vote! My children were not the electorate, they were future adults in need of leadership–someone to teach them how to grow up, to set them free from the tyranny of their own selfish, antisocial impulses.
I stopped asking, and started telling, stopped apologizing and explaining, and started saying things like, “Yes, I know this is no fun, but that’s ok! I’ll show you how.” When I was unsure what to do, instead of agonizing over what was “right”, I just picked the option I was most comfortable with. Yes, my kids were a bit taken aback at first, but they were much happier with a mom who at least pretended to know what she was doing than with one who was crippled by indecision. Mistakes? I’m sure I made plenty. Hopefully none were permanent, but parents’ mistakes are part of the process of building character in children, right?
Weary of constantly trying to please your constituency? Change your job description! Stop polling your kids, giving speeches, and trying to persuade them to see it your way. They will never, ever agree with anything they don’t already want to do! Find your voice of authority, and confidently show your kids the way to adulthood.