Bernardo M. Villegas
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Bringing Up Future Responsible Leaders (Part 2)

           Authority is not imposed.  That is why authoritarian parenting results in immature personalities.  Whoever acknowledges an authority adheres, above all, to the values or truths it represents.  The educator is principally a witness to truth and goodness.  He is someone who has already discovered the truth and make that truth his own.  Those who are being educated, in turn, need to trust their educators: not only because of their knowledge, but also because they are ready to help lead them to the truth.   As we pointed out earlier, the educator is just like a midwife, who is drawing out from the person being educated all the potential virtues and knowledge inherent in every person.

           Children naturally 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?  How can parents practice authoritative, not authoritarian parenting?  Authority has a natural foundation and arises spontaneously in the relationship between parents and children.  Instead of worrying about how to acquire authority, parents should simply try to maintain it and exercise it well. When children are small, they naturally trust their parents more than themselves.  From an early age, some of them may temperamentally be rebellious.  But with love, affection and family unity (especially between the father and the mother), they can be made to see that their parents want what is good for them, that they want them to be happy and to tell them what will help them to be truly so. They can be made to see that disobedience is a mistake, a lack of trust and love.  It must be emphasized, however, that it is primordial that the children perceive complete love and unity between father and mother.  The most traumatic experience for children is to witness their parents quarelling.

           To establish authority, parents do not have 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.  Obviously, this cannot be done if parents do not spend enough time at home with their children.  A blessing in disguise of this ongoing pandemic is that with all the lockdowns, parents have had all the time to spend with their children.  They should take advantage of this opportunity to spend time with their children, limiting the work from home that sometimes can be more absorbing and intense than when people worked in their respective offices.  The objective of parents is, using a phrase of St. Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei, to “create a bright and cheerful home.”  This means fostering a family atmosphere that is imbued with love, with piety towards God and concern for others.

           Creating this bright and cheerful at home is facilitated by eating meals together as a family, which in the past required greater effort when people spent long hours in the office or workplace and had to endure long hours of traffic.  This having meals together is a wonderful way to get to know each other while sharing stories about the day.  Children learn, also by listening to what their parents share about their own day, to put their own problems into perspective, with a dose of good humor. 

           If the atmosphere at home is pleasant and enjoyable, it would be easier to speak clearly to children when necessary, pointing out to them what they do well and what they do badly; what they can do and what they cannot; explaining to them, in way appropriate to each one’s age, the reasons for acting in one way or another.  In Christian families, among these reasons should be included the reality of being a child of God.  As advised by St. Josemaria Escriva “Try to, help children learn to evaluate their actions before God.  Give them supernatural reasons to reflect on, so that they feel responsible.”  They need to show them the example of Christ, who embraced the wood of the Cross out of love for us, to win for us our freedom.

           Exercising authority comes down to offering children, right down from very early childhood, 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.  The exercise of parental authority involves giving whatever indications are needed to maintain a warm family atmosphere and to help children discover that there is more joy in giving than in receiving.  In this regard, it is a good practice to assign children, even when they are young, certain simple tasks that help create an atmosphere of healthy mutual concern, such as assisting to set the table, spending time each week putting order in their room and possessions, answering the door, etc. It may be observed that the trend these days for young couples not to rely on domestic helpers for household chores (principally because they are no longer available in the workforce) would really make it a necessity for the children to help in the tasks at home.  This would avoid the “seniorito” complex that especially the male children developed in former child rearing practices among middle-class families when household help was abundant.  I partially attribute the lack of fortitude and industriousness among many males in my generation to this seniorito complex. In my four years of residence in the United States, I observed the wise practice of American parents to expect a lot of collaboration in the tasks at home from their children, even from the earliest childhood. I have always considered this aspect of American parenting as something that Filipino parents should emulate.  In fact, among my tutees at Harvard College where I mentored undergraduate students as a way of earning a partial scholarship, I was impressed with their practice of obtaining some part-time jobs, such as selling encyclopedias during the summer to earn part of their expenses while in the university.  Their parents, most of whom came from the middle class, could not afford to fully support them.  To be continued.