God places loving authority in the hands of parents. It is a responsibility to lead, oversee, and direct a home in a wise, godly manner. Loving authority is trustworthy; acting on behalf of those it governs and does what is right. It is judicious and benevolent and understands the need to direct, and instruct, and establish rules. It models Christ-like influence and points children to a God they can trust and follow.

But children often rebel, rejecting parental authority. Sometimes this is due to defiance within the child. Other times, it may be due to the influence of their peers, or reflect the strong aversion to authority found in our culture. When this happens, we often attempt to reinstate our parental rights by quoting Scripture and demanding that children comply. But most children do not bow their heads and humbly repent of their ways when parents do this. Rather, they respond with a readiness to battle for control and independence.

I believe the responsibility for much of this lies at the feet of parents. In the way we structure our lives, we repeatedly, though maybe unconsciously, give up our role and unwittingly give it over to others. Much of our time is spent occupying our children and reacting to them, rather than engaging them in relationship. Our kids are in school all day and then involved in sports, lessons, hobbies, and even church activities. When kids are home, they are doing homework or chores, or are occupied by the internet, or gaming. In short, we have become irrelevant to much of their daily experience. Given our absence from so much of their lives, why would our kids continue to accept our authority?

Activities and busy schedules limit our opportunities to influence our kids. Active lifestyles are not wrong, yet we must be aware of how much time we are engaging our kids in meaningful relationship versus keeping them happily occupied. One fosters intimacy, the other fosters passive detachment. Do not be mistaken, kids do look for guidance and authority, and when they need it they will likely turn to the influence that has captured their admiration and trust, often their peer group.

Parental powerlessness is difficult to face. Sometimes we minimize and excuse it but we cannot just accept it as inevitable or chalk it up to “teenage attitudes” or “kids these days.” Though our role and influence do change as our children grow, we still need to be a voice in their lives. But regaining that impact does not come about through coercion, or bribery, or threats. It comes through relationship and time spent together.

So, to fulfill our parental responsibilities, we need to prioritize building devoted relationships with our children that display care, sacrificial giving, genuine compassion, and being for them. The more gracious and godly authority we exhibit, the more our children will desire to follow and submit to it.

A strong, godly relationship serves in many ways. Here are a few:

  • It creates an atmosphere of respect, admiration, and cooperation.
  • It evokes security and connection with children.
  • It fosters a healthy dependence upon parents for spiritual and emotional nurturing.
  • It models dependency on wise counsel outside ourselves and ultimately on the Lord.
  • It models a properly-ordered respect for leadership and governance.

Fostering these qualities in our kids imparts an integrity to daily life and prepares them to thrive in the world they will live in.

Parental authority is not about force, or power, or dominance. It is about wise influence. It is about relationship and Christ-like leadership that values the good of those being led. So, instead of becoming more authoritarian with your kids, invest in your relationship with them. Show them you care and are committed to their good. It may not be well received at first, and it may take time. You may need to limit activities, time with their peers, and the multitude of ways your family gets pulled away from each other—but the results are well worth the effort.