Stop here every day for a new question and answer, practical help for busy parents.
Are parents entitled to authority over their children, or do they have to earn it?
Parents start out with authority over their children. Think of it as standard equipment rather than an entitlement. However, just as is the case with most rights, parents can voluntarily give up that authority.
Legally, the courts hold parents responsible for the care of their offspring. And if the courts will punish a parent for not taking care of a kid, the law by extension has acknowledged parental authority. Sometimes parents go to jail for neglecting their children. Call it a misuse of their parental authority.
Morally, parents must exercise authority over their children. Particularly at younger ages, children cannot fend for themselves and need constant supervision to keep them from starving to death or becoming sick or injured.
While kids’ ability to deal with their own problems increases with age, even the most mature of children still need parental help for many years. Teens able to drive and work jobs and otherwise take care of themselves still run afoul of their own inexperience or make decisions based on their hormones rather than their brains. Parents’ role in guiding their children changes over time, but parent is a permanent posting, not a temp job. And for the most part, children benefit from their parents’ long-term commitment. I’ve met a number of older children, some as old as their 50s, who still desperately need adult supervision.
Spiritually, parents receive authority simply because of their position. One of the Ten Commandments instructs children to honor their father and mother. In addition, the Bible says if parents train up their children in the way they should go, the children won’t depart from the path after they grow up.
Given the weight of parents’ responsibilities, authority obviously cuts both ways. For the conscientious parent, that authority is no picnic. It represents a burden as much as a privilege.
Unfortunately, we all know parents who lose that natural authority. Some give it up simply by not using it, allowing their children more freedom than they can handle at an early age. And no matter how poorly the kids manage that freedom, they will not readily give it up after they get used to making their own decisions. Some parents lose their authority through their own conduct, sacrificing their credibility by lying or stealing or cheating or abusing, or otherwise failing to act in their children’s best interest.
The wisest parents cede authority to their children gradually, weaning them onto independence a bit at a time. And remember, parents never really retire. If they maintain a good relationship with their children, they will still retain a vestige of their old authority even after those children become adults with their own households and responsibilities.
Think of a parent as chairman emeritus of the board. He doesn’t dictate policy anymore, but the shrewd child will take into account his vast experience and still give the old man’s words some weight.
What is the etiquette for offering condolences to someone who lost a child at birth?
Some questions have no answer. There are no words adequate to express that kind of grief, and nothing you can say will make the mother feel better. Skip the “Keep your chin up” or “You’ll feel better eventually” platitudes.
If you know the person well, make yourself available physically and emotionally, and don’t worry about any words other than “I’m terribly sorry for your loss” or something similar. If the mother wants to talk, then listen to her. If she doesn’t want to talk, keep quiet.
If you don’t know the person well enough for her to think about confiding in you or asking you for help, don’t bring up the topic at all.
If you’d like to submit an Ask The Dad question, send it to email@example.com. If you’d like to read more questions and answers, visit www.askthedad.com.