I don’t have clear research to back up my take on Baumrind’s parenting styles and the role of “power,” but it follows from some of the thinking about corporal punishment, which has been correlated with a wide range of problems in children and adolescence. More importantly, it is a helpful way of thinking. In part, it follows from my philosophy on spanking: When we spank, we teach that “might makes right” and that the strongest gets to set the rules, which is exactly what happens when we use our power as parents rather than our authority–when we make a demand based on being the parent rather than knowing there is a good reason for the demand.
Think of the child who cries or screams to the point of making us lose it. It is not the end of the world if we lose our temper and yell, but think about the difference between screaming for the child to stop, which in essence is a demand to do what you say, not what you do. Instead, I have successfully quieted children with “You’re hurting my ears” and “I want to help you but I can’t understand what is wrong.” In the first, I was able to encourage my children’s empathy, and in the second, I was able to express my desire to help, if only they could express themselves so I could understand, showing my desire to help while giving the child a way to help themselves. Of course, it was never a simple statement. I had to exaggerate the pain caused by their screams, and I often had to help my children calm themselves, which I did my guiding them to breath deeply and to count to ten, etc. It required that I get close, touch them, and give them my undivided attention, but I had a lot less yelling and crying as a result. Most importantly, I developed their empathy and their thinking, and that was always my priority.
I’m going to have to develop this one a little at a time, I think, but our children need to know we’re there for them, and if we want them to become good, thoughtful people, we need to be good and thoughtful parents.