God is the author of life, and his goodness is shown also in his authority. All created authority participates in it, and specifically the loving authority of parents.
We know that the exercise of parental authority isn’t always easy, and needs to “get down” to very specific aspects of daily life. We’ve all had the experience in educating children that “if no standard of behavior and rule of life is applied even in small daily matters, the character is not formed and the person will not be ready to face the trials that will come in the future.” Nevertheless, we also know that it is not always easy to find a balance between freedom and discipline.
In fact, many parents have a fear of disciplining, perhaps because they themselves have suffered the negative consequences that can come from imposing things on children. They are afraid, for example, that peace at home will be lost, or that their children will reject something that is good in itself.
The exercise of authority should never be confused with simply imposing our will on another person, or making sure we are obeyed at any cost. Whoever obeys a particular authority shouldn’t do so because of the fear of punishment, but rather because they see in that authority a reference point for knowing what is true and good, even though they may not understand this clearly yet. Authority is closely allied to truth, since it has to represent what is true.
Clearly, children expect their parents to practice in their own lives the values they seek to transmit, and to show them their love. How can parents attain the authority and prestige that their role requires? Authority has a natural foundation and arises spontaneously in the relationship between parents and children. So rather than worrying about how to acquire authority, parents should simply try to maintain it and exercise it well.
This is obvious when children are small; if a family is united, the children will trust their parents more than themselves. Obedience may be hard at times, but it makes sense to them within a context of love and family unity. “My parents want what is good for me; they want me to be happy, and tell me what will help me to truly be so.” Disobedience is seen then as a mistake, a lack of trust and love.
Therefore, to establish their authority, parents don’t need to do anything more than to be truly parents: to show forth the joy and beauty of their own lives, and to make clear, with deeds, that they love their children the way they are. Naturally, this requires spending time at home. Although today’s pace of life can make this difficult, it is important for them to spend time with their children and “to create a family atmosphere that is imbued with love, with piety towards God and concern for others.”
Exercising authority comes down to offering children, right from when they are very young, the tools they will need to grow as persons. The most important thing is to show them good example in one’s own life. Children notice everything their parents do, and tend to imitate them.
Parental authority involves giving the indications necessary to maintain a warm family atmosphere and to help children discover that there is more joy in giving than in receiving.
Part of the parents’ authority entails helping their children understand the values they want to transmit to them, while always respecting their independence and their particular way of being. This requires, above all, that children feel unconditionally loved by their parents and are in tune with them: that they know them and trust them.
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