Yesterday I told you that I think obedience, which many parents seem to see as the highest value for their children, is overrated. Today I want to share a bit more about why I believe that, and what I hope for you instead.
I believe in empowerment. I believe God created each of us with the power to make real choices that affect our relationship with Him and the way we live our lives during the time that He gives us. I believe part of my job as your dad is to empower you in much the same way.
The problem is that for much of history, including the history that is still being made to this day, the prevailing belief has been that powerful people can only obtain and maintain their power at the expense of someone else’s. The “power over” dynamic has shaped human history and culture as long as humans have existed . . . all the way back to Cain and Abel.
But there is an alternative. I don’t want to exercise power over you. I want to exercise power with you.
What does a “power with” relationship look like?
For my relationship with you, I hope it looks something like giving you real choices over what we do with our time and our lives together, giving you the ability to exercise your preferences even when they are not mine, and gently exposing you to the consequences of your choices in ways you can handle, so you learn how to make wise, informed, educated decisions about your life.
What does that look like in practical terms? I don’t know yet. I’ve heard ideas I find attractive from other parents who believe this is important: like allowing their four-year-old input on when she goes to bed rather than mandating a “bedtime,” or allowing their seven-year-old to research and choose a location for the family to spend their summer vacation.
In truth, though, it will probably look different by the day, and will look different even from other families who hold the same values your mom and I do. The key is that – as I’ve tried to explain in my last few letters – neither of us wants to exercise power over you . . . to bend your will to ours simply because we can. Instead, we want to exercise power with you . . . to teach you how to be a powerful person who is able to make wise, well-considered decisions about his own life.
It’s not going to happen all at once, of course. If you decide at age 10 that you think tattoos are cool and you’d like to go get one, I’m sorry. It’s not going to happen. What I will tell you if that situation arises is that a decision like that is fairly permanent – or at least fairly difficult to reverse – and that I’d prefer you wait until you’re 18 to make a decision with consequences that are that long-lasting. Then, if at 18 you still want a tattoo, I’ll drive you out to get one myself, even if I think it’s a bad idea at the time.
If, on the other hand, at age 10 you decide you want a particularly expensive pair of sneakers, even if my personal opinion is that they’re overly extravagant and a waste of money, rather than just telling you “no,” and rather than buying them for you myself, I will do everything in my power to assist you in finding ways to obtain the money you need to buy them on your own, through extra chores, mowing lawns, delivering papers or whatever courses of action are available to you to obtain for yourself the resources to facilitate your own desires.
It’s also not going to look the same for every decision. If you decide while you’re still living in my home that smoking marijuana is an attractive habit to adopt, I will explain to you that you are free to make your own decisions of that magnitude when you’re out on your own and the potentially drastic consequences of that decision affect only yourself, but a decision like that has legal ramifications for myself and the rest of our family if I allow you to engage in illegal activity in my home with my knowledge. Part of “power with” is ensuring that both your needs and mine are met to the best of our collective abilities to meet them . . . so I’m not going to overcompensate by letting your need to make your own decisions damage my need to protect the rest of my family.
In general, though, when I have the ability to do so without long-lasting, drastically harmful results to you and others, I want to empower you to make your own choices.
To me, that’s what “power with” looks like.