Transfer of Power

Posted on November 7, 2014


I am writing this on Election Day.  This has been a particularly brutal election season with all of the negative campaigning, particularly in California’s 52nd congressional district where I live.[1]  My best guess is that we are getting more than 5 political phone calls per day.  I vote by permanent absentee ballot, so I voted over a week ago and neither we nor the candidates benefit from those continual calls.  The calls start to border on harassment and sadly, the national “do not call” registry does not apply to political calls.  Having offered that rant, I am thankful that I live in a country where we can vote, and whatever the outcome, the transfer of power will be without bloodshed.

A friend of mine was visiting his in-laws in Ireland back in 2008.  Said relatives had proceeded to inform him that we in the United States were living in a “dictatorship.”  His retort was that no matter what, George W. Bush would no longer be in power on January 21, 2009.  Sure enough, there was a transfer of power as provided by the constitution and our electoral process.

Transfer of power in families is often less smooth.  When children are born, they are not capable of making any decisions for themselves.  They are not able to care for themselves.  All of the power and all of the decision making rests with the parents.  When those children turn 18 and become legal adults, they can opt to seize power and make all of their own decisions.  This is particularly a scary prospect if all of the power and decision making has rested with the parents for those 18 years.  Going from no authority to total authority in a single shot can be a recipe for disaster.

Sometimes families come to see me where parents are holding tightly to the reigns with a teenager who is kicking against the control.  Don’t get me wrong here, teenagers need boundaries.  And if your teen never thought you were too strict, you were too lenient.  Sometimes it is the parents’ job to make the call.

Having said that, here is my point (in the form of a question).  Wherever you are at in the parenting process, how are you doing at preparing your child to take responsibility for his or her own life?  If your child is 16, you only have two years left to prepare your child to be able to make adult decisions.  It is a late start, but you can still work on it.

Let me offer some suggestions that may be helpful.  First, from as early an age as possible, give the reasons why we do the things we do.  This does not mean that your instructions are always open to debate, but rather to give your child a view to how you interact with the world and why.  Why don’t we litter?  The answer might be because we are stewards of the planet and we need to take care of it.  Or it might be because we want to be honoring to the other people who will come after us.  Other people are valuable and deserving of our honor.  On a more base level, it could be simply because it is illegal and we believe in obeying the law.  Why should you obey me?  Because one day it might save your life.  Because our family will function better and be happier.  Why do I not want you riding with a new driver?  Less experienced drivers have a greater potential for serious accidents.  I never want to see your name in red cups in the chain link at the high school saying, “We miss you, Amanda.”  You would probably be okay, but if there is a 1% chance of you being killed in an accident, the risk is too high.

Second, do the training in times of non-conflict.  If you want to teach an object lesson, the lesson will never be successful in the middle of battle.  If you want your values to be “Impress[ed] on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deut. 6:7).

Third, more is caught than taught of what you really believe.  You will never do it perfectly, but you need to model what you say you believe.  If you model something different, the children are more likely to internalize what you do rather than what you say.  If you are teaching honesty as a virtue, be marked by speaking truthfully and keeping your word.  Some pitfalls could include calling in sick if you are not or asking someone to tell the caller you aren’t home when you are.  If you want your child to learn to speak respectfully to others, model it yourself, not just in direct interaction with your child, but in your interactions with others, from how you speak to your mate to how you treat the waiter.

Fourth, you can only guide to the extent that the depth of the relationship will bear.  If you have a close relationship with your child, you can speak into your child’s life.  If you have little relationship beyond taking care of daily business, it will be more difficult to find fertile ground for your lessons.  You need to make the investment if you want to have the influence.

Fifth, self-determination should be given based upon age and maturity of the child.  This is fairly quid pro quo.  The more you can be trusted with small things, the more I can trust you with more important decisions.  As you grow and demonstrate responsibility, I can transfer more power and authority over your life to you.

The mission here is not to just get compliance, but to train adults who can make good decisions for themselves and have internalized the virtues you would wish for them.  It is not easy, but I would suggest that it is worth the effort.

[1] If you believe what our congressional candidates say about each other, they are both bound for prison in this life and hell in the next.