Where is the Line?

The question about finding the balance between freedom and authority seems to strike a chord for many parents. When it comes down to the issues that arise with children, the answer to “where do you draw the line?” can become quite murky. And parents struggle with this question.

The question is particularly resonant right now as it is being raised between government authorities and constituents around issues related to the pandemic such as wearing masks and social distancing. There are those who consider such orders an infringement on their freedom, defying authority in their behavior and challenging the potential for enforcement.

On the home front, parents are similarly challenged in myriad ways. Little children present one kind of rebellion described by a mother as, “keeping a mask on a four-year-old is beyond challenging.” Each developmental stage presents its own issues around compliance to more than mask wearing, with adolescence perhaps being the most challenging for parents.

The father of a teen-ager already having a driver’s license, reported the challenge involved in not only monitoring activities but also having to decide about permission to use the car while relying on the girl’s assurance about heeding mask wearing and safe modes of social interaction. Beyond that was concern that the parents of the several friends with whom their daughter interacted were not as concerned about following safety health rules as these parents are.

This pointed up the complexity of being necessary to be mindful of the behavior of others as well as one’s own, the essence of social awareness parents try to instill in their children. As parents, we often feel conflicted within ourselves about whether we should be giving our children the freedom to make choices, or should be asserting our authority as parents in the decisions to be made. We are not always sure where to draw the line between freedom for our children and our authority as their parents.

Part of the difficulty lies in the question itself. Drawing the line sounds like drawing a line in the sand. “Don’t cross that line or else…” Asserting authority seems to suggest a big stick, or dire consequences. Is there another way to assert authority besides threatening with a big stick?

Part of our problem comes from thinking there is a right answer to every situation. If we think of finding the right balance instead of the right answer, that means using judgment. Of course, as parents we are responsible for our children’s health and welfare. Some things are more clear cut than others, but we shouldn’t get mixed up about things that are real choices and those that are our responsibility as parents.

The difficulty is that responsibility as parents has many aspects. In the example given the parents felt responsible for the child’s health but also for supporting her own sense of responsibility and judgment in making decisions. At times parents are clear that there are things children should not be deciding for themselves, but want to avoid the conflict that ensues when either they, or their children, dig in their heels.

When we feel clear within ourselves that we are in charge, that feeling of confidence gets communicated to our children in our voice and manner without our sounding like a dictator or making threats. Also, when we feel confident about our expectations as parents, we can be much more open to hearing, not capitulating, to our children’s point of view even when they don’t get what they want.

Perhaps the line is a wavy line that allows for some give and take