“Anything without a head is dead. Anything with two heads is a freak.”
When they arrived as babies, I never thought my kiddoes would ever be able to do anything for themselves. Ever. But, as they have started to grow and mature a little, I have learned that there are things with which my children came equipped; things that were built into their DNA. No one had to teach them or train them in these things but their skills are off the charts. They are exceptional at things like making messes and giggling. They also have an uncanny ability to sniff out hypocrisy especially regarding their father and the reason he can have two pieces of candy and they can only have one. But the most encompassing of their pre-loaded traits is their dependence on a clear hierarchy of power in every setting.
My children always, by their words and by their behavior, demand to know who is in charge. It is baked into their psyche. At all times, whether conscious of it or not, they are seeking out confirmation that there is someone leading. When they sense that there is a leadership vacuum, they will, by instinct, fill the void and take over. They cannot help it. They seem to be wired for this. In fact, my kids (and my assumption is that this is universal to all children) are always pushing the limits to gauge whether or not someone is in charge. They “test the fences” like Velociraptors trying to find a weakness. This does not carry any malice, it’s just what kids do.
The problems arise when the ones who are supposed to be, are not willing to be in charge for whatever reason. At this point, children always commandeer and occupy the leadership role. As soon as they sense an empty throne, they fill it, immediately. But they are simply not equipped for it and I would argue that they don’t want it and are relieved when they don’t have to do it. We all know what it looks like when the kid is in charge. It seems the grocery store is the most common place kids assert their kingship; a tantrum grows louder and louder until Mom/Dad gives in and buys whatever trinket the kid king demands of her subject parent. We see it all the time. In fact, if we’re honest, we have all felt those times when our kids just seem to own us. It is a dreadful and helpless feeling of failure.
As Dad, one of the chief responsibilities I have is to provide a familial framework of understanding, love, and safety, where every member of my family knows exactly who is in charge and which direction we are going. The most convicting and devastatingly accurate complaint about modern men is that we grown men so often act just like little boys. We are selfish, passive, and scared. (God help us). Being Dad is a hard road but it works best when he takes the reigns of leadership.
In our house, it looks like this at a high level. Mom and Dad sit down together and set the vision. We outline rules, boundaries, and limitations. We enforce these things together. Daily, we will run up against a situation or 3 and I will ask one or all of the She-Gables, “Who is in charge?” and the response will be “Daddy is”. Other times, their desire to do something will clash with what they have just been told to do. They will say, “But, I want to do this…” and my response “Well, what did Daddy say?” What I want them to see from me, and what I want them to feel in this family is a constant understanding that Mommy and Daddy are in charge so they don’t have to be. I want that idea ringing in their ears.
This understanding provides a home environment marked by a few things:
- When Daddy is in charge, they can relax. Kids arrive with the imbedded desire to be in charge, but they don’t come equipped to handle the pressures of being in charge. The framework of stability gives them freedom to be children. As they grow and mature, they are handed small pieces of additional responsibility and they are able to learn how to be an adult without the harsh consequences of “on the job training”. Let them be kids. Train them to be adults.
- When Daddy is in charge, they have a healthy view of authority. Rebellion and resistance to authority are part of the air we breathe (at least here in America). We are ever cognizant of “the man” and so on and so forth. But with kids, a healthy view of authority is imperative. Starting at a young age, authority figures are a large part of their lives. I want the She-Gables to have a complimentary relationship with the authority figures in their lives, not a combative one. If I show them at home what authority should look like, they will more easily find it in their teachers, and in their coaches, and in their bosses, and in their civic leaders. Beyond that, they will be able to exercise authority when it becomes their time.
- When Daddy is in charge, his faults and mistakes are amplified. This is a great and wonderful and terrible thing! The reality with which all families must come to terms, is that we are all capable of monumental failure. All men fail. All women fail. We make great mistakes and we make a mess of things. The great trouble comes when we think we can hide from our mistakes. Here’s a truth: the most free a man will ever be is when his mistakes and failures are exposed and his family loves him anyway. When that happens, he can soar. He can ask for forgiveness. He can strive to do and be better. He can lead.
So, who is in charge?