How Parents Give Away Their Authority

Posted November 2, 2015 by

How Parents Give Away Their Authority

There’s no getting around it…giving consequences and setting limits makes you uncomfortable.

You don’t like to be seen as “the bad guy.” Besides, your partner is a much better disciplinarian – they have no problem enforcing the rules, and the kids actually listen to them.

It all works out, right?

Not always – if you consistently wait for your partner to take disciplinary action, you could be teaching your child that you have no authority.

For many parents, enforcing the rules just doesn’t feel good. You may not like confrontation, or you may be worried about negatively affecting your relationship with your child. If your co-parent is naturally more assertive with discipline, it can be easier to let them take the reins. This happened a lot in my family – my mom was famous for saying, “Just wait until your father gets home!”

When only one parent acts as the disciplinarian, your actions say to your child, “I’m not capable of holding you accountable.” You end up giving away your authority.

The same situation can occur when threatening to call a teacher, coach, or other authority figure outside the home. For example,

“I’m going to call your teacher if you don’t sit down and do your homework right this minute,”


“I’m going to call your coach and tell him how you speak to me.”

The parent is using fear-based discipline in each scenario, which might work the first few times, but eventually kids start to see through it. Especially if you use the statement as a threat and don’t follow-through.

In many cases, resentment can also build between parents – one parent feels like they have to shoulder the burden of holding the child accountable, or being the “bad guy,” while the other feels like the child doesn’t listen to them.

There’s nothing wrong with waiting until your spouse is home to discuss your next steps. If you need to rely on your partner for something important, James Lehman, child behavior expert and author of multiple parenting programs, wrote specific, effective phrases in his article, Do You Make This Parenting Mistake? “Wait till Your Father Gets Home!”

Here’s to presenting a united front – you’ll both be stronger for it!

Take care,

Rebecca W., Empowering Parents Coach
Learn more about 1-on-1 Coaching

“Instead of threatening your child with their other parent, present a unified front and emphasize the fact that you and your partner are making decisions together.” – James Lehman, MSW, creator of The Total Transformation


Rebecca Wolfenden is a loving Momma to her son and a dedicated 1-on-1 Coach. She earned her degree in Social Work from West Virginia University and has been with Empowering Parents since 2011. Rebecca has experience working with children and families in home settings and schools, and has extensive practice working with people of all ages who have survived significant emotional and physical trauma.

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  1. Christine Report

    After reading your article, I feel like I’m one of those parents constantly saying “Wait til your father gets home” or “Wait til your father sees this mess”. I do give away power time & time again. I don’t know how I started doing it but I have. I’m a mother of 4 and find that they are becoming more & more disrespectful to me and their younger sibling. I’m going to try to talk things through instead of waiting on HIM to come home. He comes out the hero & me the zero. Wish me luck.

  2. Lexa Report

    So what would you do if you and your husband have your own communication issues. His aim is to oppose everything you say or do in front of the child. Result you let him take the lead to avoid confrontation, but the child is not being raised as strict as you prefer.

    • Empowering Parents Coach Rebecca Wolfenden, 1-on-1 Coach Report

      I’m sorry to hear about the issues you and your husband are experiencing in your communication, and how that is impacting your parenting. These types of differences are quite common, so you’re not alone in experiencing this. Something that can be helpful is to talk privately during a calm time, and try to find some common ground when it comes to rules and expectations for your child. You might find some additional steps in When Parents Disagree: 10 Ways to Parent as a Team. I recognize what a tough situation this can be, and I hope that you will write back and let us know how things are going for you and your family. Take care.

  3. Jan Report

    Reading the comments, I have to wonder if there are some chemicals in today’s foods that are influencing kids to misbehave or be lazy. These seem to be growing problems. Everyone has gone through rebellious periods growing up, I certainly did, but now it seems that all of these problems seem to be the norm with most kids. Something is wrong somewhere and I think the chemicals in the foods that we eat plus the me first special snowflake culture are the things that no one seems to be talking about here.

  4. Ashley Report

    I’m hhaving some major issues and looking for advice.  I’m a stepmother to a very entitled little 6 year old. She hates school and we are having and receiving numerous emails a day from her teacher. SHe is a gifted child but will not do the work, using phrases like “I don’t care, and I don’t have too.”  Her mother and father are divorced, and she does not see anyone other than me, the step mother as an authority figure.. We have set consquences for her actions, boxing all of her toys up, however she goes to her mother’s house on the weekends, where she is rewarded with gifts and given whatever she wants, and then we start the week all over again. SHe has recently began stealing. What do I do now, I haven’t spanked her and I feel like lack of discipline throughout her life, has put us in this situation, but I’m geting really tired of dealing with this.

    • Margaret Koski Report

      sounds to me like the child is acting out for love and understanding. my children who were teenagers had such anxieties when me and my spouse divorced they never talked about it until 3 years later. daughter saying it was so hard not wajing up to seeing u both in the morning. chikdren take it even harder and are often put in the middle. i suggest family counseling with the father chikd step mom, also set boundaries and while doing that tell her you will always Love her they need to her that more often and let her know your never givong up on her.

  5. Rossdar Report

    Only1Dee- So challenging, and frustrating for you…. Thoughts and hopes that things improve.  
    There is such a fine line with their abilities at this age……   my son took a while to ‘assess’ his father and took a while (years) to process how much aggravation existed in our house when he was the only male…..    Uncertain if any of this is a core variable with all going on with your family, but his relate-ability decrease being the only boy in the house may be a contributor   (along with everything else….  )    

    BEST and hopeful thoughts for all in your family…

  6. Only1Dee Report

    I have found myself in this very exact situation. My kids father who has been the sole disciplinarian for almost 20 years, is absent now. I have a 21 year old young lady still living with me and going to school. My son just turned 17 who thinks he can do whatever he wants beit smoking pot, skipping school, getting suspended from school, failing grades, and come and go as he pleases, and my 12 year old daughter sees all of this. My son is the her trying one. Everything that he does wrong, I have talked to him about, but talking is not enough. I am to the point now there has to be consequences to his actions. He doesn’t have his driver’s license because I don’t believe he’s ready to take on the responsibility of driving because he’s easily influenced. I have expressed this to him. I feel he can’t be truthful to me about anything. I have threatened to send him away because having a normal life at home is just not what he wants. I honestly don’t know where to send him. I need some advice please.

  7. Maryellen97 Report

    My 16 year old son enjoys a privileged upbringing, excellent expensive school with great academic record. However this past year he has discovered smoking (on occasion pot) girls (he has condoms in his room) and is generally becoming more defiant. I believe like a lot of teenagers he’s stressed I know we have high expectations of him academically but apart from his school work he’s lazy and disorganised. I clean his room when I’ve had enough of the mess but he shows utter disrespect dropping empty packaging, drinks cans etc on the floor. It’s almost a protest? Getting him up in the morning is a nightmare…… I feel he ignores rules and us! His siblings think he’s spoiled which they regular ally voice. I know we need to set rules and boundaries but I’ve no idea how to begin with him, the fact he’s very bright actually means he thinks he’s smarter than the rest of us……….

    • An old mother hen Report

      Maryellen97 Try this for a no stress morning – I promise , it works ! !   YOU HAVE TO DO THIS EXACTLY – AND ONLT THIS WAY.   Ok here its is:  Give you son ONE good morning pleasant wake-up call.  NOT TWO, JUST ONE.    Then just leave him to wake by himself.  YES – LEAVE HIM.  The first morning, he will most likely oversleep, miss the bus, or miss his ride to school.  He may get upset and try to blame you, etc.. that’s fine.  You just simply say, I did wake you up and then WALK AWAY.   The next morning, repeat .  The morning after that , repeat again.

      • Crazy Cat Lady Report

        @An old mother hen Maryellen97 This is great advice… and works well for just about everything having to do with teenagers!  Advise ONCE and then walk off.  Letting them suffer the consequences of their actions (or failure to act) teaches responsibility without you being the “bad guy”.  We’ve started doing this with our 13 year old son in regards to homework, chores, wake ups, bedtimes etc. etc.  What we’ve seen is that he now gets himself up and ready to go to school, puts himself to bed at a decent hour and has generally kept his grades to passing levels — ON HIS OWN.  While it’s hard to watch him suffer consequences, it teaches an important and necessary lesson about responsibility.  After all, how many bosses are going to ignore habitual tardiness, laziness and poor work ethics?  Answer:  Not Many.

    • Rossdar Report

      Hi Maryellen, and thank you for your post.   I say that because in reading it this morning, you have actually helped me a bit.   You see, I face many similar things with my son:  finding the condoms (though he says he doesn’t/hasn’t used), being lazy, academically brilliant but not applying himself, the drug exploration, and ooh…the room/cleanliness standard!      

      Theory of environment I hold valuable regarding child upbringing, but, I too think social environment of kids now, is underrated.    With my son, I finally set my core parenting around all these rebellious / social exploration issues against the long-term character and values I’ve established for our family.    Long and short of it, in our situation I did 2 main things:
      1.   I’ve clearly stated my detest and disapproval of certain behaviors, and the boundary of my home not being a ‘location of choice’ should he smoke, drink, or become sexually engaged with any girls and emphasized, respectfully, my house my rules, and his not liking them is ok, but defying them is not.
      2.  I emphasized the long-term characteristic of integrity and honesty with my son,   Knowing that he will make choices against those I would make, and though I will not excuse the behavior or assist him getting ‘out’ of any repercussions that may result (should he and his friends get caught while smoking, or drinking etcetera)  I DO expect him to be honest with me and truthful about his choices.    If he gets a girl pregnant- his responsibility.  If he gets arrested- he will stay in jail cell.  If he misses school- he will not get an excuse from me, and he will have to stand infront of the Magistrate. If he comes home and is high or drunk ( he knows if I have suspicion I will drug test him at home) his car will be off-limits.    

      Though I do not enjoy this being our relationship, and admittedly I see it as a form of avoidance on my part, in our situation, it seems to be working well.   There is a level of trust and tolerance that has re-emphasized my expectations both now and always regarding honesty, AND a loosening of the rebelliousness based off ‘sneaking around or having to hide”.    

      Best to you and your family Maryellen and THANKS again for posting our story.   We all face it on different levels, and consequences with grace/honesty would be my best suggestion and input from living with similar circumstances.

  8. joyya Report

    My granddaughter in the past year has gone completely wild. She is so mean and vicious and won’t go to school. She had been bullied, or so she says, and we have removed the bully from her classes but still she doesn’t want to go to school and she won’t do her homework and she has punched and scratched her mother and her older brother when they were trying to get her to go to school. She goes into a terrible screaming and yelling and throwing thing tantrum if you tell her “no”. She just got her period last summer and she has gotten worse. If she misses more school she will be truant. She use to be the sweetest little girl but now she is totally out of control.Can you help

  9. SuperRA62 Report

    My husband does not want to parent anymore and then thinks my girls do not respect me because all he does is yell.  We started by working together but he gave up because I think it was a lot more than he bargained for.

  10. Lou53 Report

    I have been paying the consequences of giving my authority away.  My ex-husband is much more of a disciplinarian than I am and in addition to it being easier to let him be the bad guy, I feel like I am trying to counter balance my ex’s over the top (from my perspective) disciplinarian style.  But, the consequence of that has been my son getting more and more out of control and my authority being diminished.

    Empowering Parents has been one of the tools that has helped me understand that giving my power away is not only hurting me but also my son by giving him permission to be out of control.  As I’ve learned to put boundaries in place in a calm and controlled manner that I enforce, he has responded and my fears of losing my child’s love and/or causing him to escalate even further were not grounded in reality.

    We still have a long way to go but I hope this encourages others to face their own fears as it relates to their child’s behavioral issues.  If they make poor choices we have to be willing to enforce consequences each and every day.   It seems simple..except when it is your child:-)

  11. Rossdar Report

    Facing the challenges kids have in today’s socially driven media world is even MORE reason for parents to do their VERY best to be firm fair and consistent.  This is if you are parenting alone or with a partner.   KIDS KNOW everything (incase you’ve not gotten their memo) and any sign of inconsistency in parenting is the MAIN KEY to kids that push the boundaries.      

    I say this from first hand experience, that although much better, boundary pushing is an almost DAILY issue between my 16 year old and I.  Though details aren’t extremely relevant to this comment, suffice to say, police involvement, drug use, personal inquisitiveness to cutting, ADHD and Aspergers diagnosed behaviors and so much more is the backdrop in our situation. 

    AS hard AS it has been as a parent, loving and living a life much differently than I would have scripted for my son and I, the end of the day solice I find when I put my head on my pillow, (whether he sees it now or not) is that I was consistent, giving in grace while still parenting to the 4 main consistent values I’ve established for our family. 

    BEST to each of you, dual or single parenting, and please REMEMBER WE ARE equipped to strengthen the parent/child relationship and it is our RESPONSIBILITY to make things work for the ‘net gain’ in every situation.

  12. AlethaCarterPowell Report

    Im Aletha and I have too and help raise siblings.I know for a fact the statements are true.As parents we have to take stronge actions sometimes and stick with our rules we set.And keep up with the good outcomes out our rules we set for our kids also.

  13. Suzanne Parvin Report

    I heard something that is echoing and staying in my mind. As a mother with an adult child who is running wild, I heard that ” the word NO, is a complete sentence.”. Throwing money at a problem doesn’t and hasn’t worked. Opening up my home and being there hasn’t and doesn’t work. Problem is she has to do the changing and find the resources for herself. She is like the iceberg, while everyone is looking for the life rafts. I have had enough. All I can do is love and pray she finds peace. Its heartbreaking but what else can we do.

    • natalielfoskett Report

      Suzanne Parvin Hi  Ive a very similar scenario going on with my son.  Hes twenty and ive had no choice but to sling him out after he hit me so hard my face swelled up. I called the police and since then it has been me trying to fix his problems while he does nothing to help himself. Im the one worrying about wheres he going to live and has he got enough food because he spends all his money on other things. He is very disrespectful and says hurtfull things to me all the time which ive put up with for years. He can be vile but still I try to help any way I can but ive got to a point now where Ive had to say enough is enough and unless he helps himself and stops being so vile to me I can no longer be part of his drama. It comes down to self care and as heartbreaking as it is we have to disengage at somepoint for our own sanity and make them take responsibility for their actions.  Good luck Suzanne I wish you the best.

    • SkramMom Report

      Suzanne Parvin 
      I hear you and feel your heartbreak, Suzanne. 
      My husband and I have been through hell and high water with our son.  Counseling, medications, etc.  I can’t tell you all of the IEPs and special services the school has provided for him, as well. The school finally told him they’ve done all they can and he hasn’t responded, so they asked him to withdraw. He just turned 18, has no diploma and a limited education.  He has big dreams for himself, but expects everything to be easy or handed to him. 
      It doesn’t help that my husband and I (aka “The Enforcer”) have been in two different worlds when it comes to parenting, which is why I invested in the Total Transformation Program.  My husband is retired and has and continues to cater to his every want (not just need), which has REALLY put a strain on our 20 year marriage. 
      I’ve seen some maturity in our son over the last year, but one step forward when you’re already ten steps behind is heartbreaking to watch as a parent. 
      I guess some kids just have to learn the hard way – they’re wired differently.

  14. HeidiPhinneyDorman Report

    I have called the police on my autistic child when he threatens to physically harm me. When something doesn’t get done that he can do and refuses to, I will tell him that his dad will hear about this. After I tell him this, my son will do as I have asked him. I am the authoritarian because his dad works two different jobs and isn’t home until after my son goes to bed.

    • Rossdar Report

      HeidiPhinneyDorman I am uncertain of specifics with your situation, but would suggest The Total Transformation Program.   I did it with my son and learned MUCH needed information on how my daily interactions too had to change.    Since my son was an infant, we found a technique that, though changed a bit, still suits his needed ‘calm down’ time.    In our more volatile times, I wished I had remembered the technique.   

      It’s similar in concept to a time out chair, but you choose an object, or a statement of separation that puts an ‘impasse’ into the situation. 
      When my son was very young, and he would beat his head into my chest anytime he was scared, angered, anxiety filled or other, I would pass it off as simple way of expressing himself…. it was much deeper than that as we came to find out.     The trick that worked for him when he was younger was my finally finding a spot on his upper right side temple area that I would simply begin to gently stroke toward the back of his head and neck area, as I looked right in his eyes and began humming the same lullaby.     This technique began to work immediately to his head banging me, and in time I found it worked in almost every situation we faced his explosive behavior. 

      As he aged, I moved away from similar solution techniques, and in retrospect, it caused a LARGE amount of frustrations to our situation.   We;ve tried a lot of different ‘calmers’ since our first one.   As he’s aged, he now even picks what we may use, for instance last year for about 3 months it was simply a code word…. that, when used I knew he was close to ‘boiling over’ and for whatever reason, needed calming time.     

      I never found the threats to work.  And though it sounds cruel for me to right, that is what your telling him dad will hear about it is exactly what you are doing.   I did it for a bit myself to zero avail with my X-husband, and it is EXHAUSTING for so many reasons.   Until I went back to some of the calming techniques and even having VISUALS for my son that CLEARLY stated agreed upon consequences for his behaviors we lived in a tumultuous home.   
      The VISUALS disciplined me to shut my mouth, (as when we boil we tend to talk too much in anger and frustration instead of grace and confidence), and leave the room for him to digest his own actions.    ***in your case, i’d think this too would assist with your husband and your creating the SAME page – so long as you both mutually embrace and compromise with the VISUAL discipline chart***.   

      Best of luck with you situation, and I hope this was read with its intent of sharing to assist, not to judge.

  15. sipes67 Report

    my husband works away for 2 weeks and is home for 2 weeks so its usually up to me. I never really had issues with my son (13 with aspergers) but we have just moved from Alaska to Washington and I thought he was doing good but now he is lying to me and telling the teachers that he don’t have to do the work if he don’t want to. this is totally not my son. anytime I ask him to do something he don’t like he gets pissy. all he wants to do is what he wants to do… help plz.

    • rwolfenden Report

      It can be
      difficult when your child’s behavior changes, and he starts lying and refusing
      to do his work at school and at home.  This type of shift is not uncommon
      for teens, so you’re not alone.  It’s also quite common for most kids and
      teens (and even adults!) to prefer to do what they want, when they want. 
      The focus should really be on working with your son on how he will meet his
      responsibilities, even if it’s something he doesn’t want to do.  It could
      be useful to with him about possible strategies he could use when he is faced with
      a task he doesn’t like, and to as much as possible.  I also encourage you to stay
      in contact with the school, and to let his teachers hold him accountable if he
      is choosing not to do his work there.  Please let us know if you have
      additional questions; take care.

  16. KERRY1304 Report


  17. Fermer1 Report

    Hi all how does parents deal with physical threats . Get told don’t give a f:::: if you call the police Social works does seem to care. HELP

    • Empowering Parents Coach drowden Report

      I’m sorry you are having to deal with such troubling
      behavior. I think the important thing to keep in mind is it doesn’t matter
      whether or not your child cares about the consequences. In situations
      where the child is breaking the law – destroying property, physically
      assaulting another, or threatening harm to another – you call the police to
      help you deal with the situation and ensure everyone in the house is safe. As
      James Lehman points out in the article, sometimes a parent’s authority isn’t
      enough and it becomes necessary to call in a higher authority. One thing you
      may find helpful is to call the non emergency or business number of your local
      police department and ask them how they can help you in this situation. Kim
      Abraham and Marney Studaker-Cordner have a great worksheet you can use when
      talking with the police about your child. You can find a link to it in the
      article I hope this
      is helpful. Be sure to check back if you have any further questions. Take care.

      • lynns_888 Report

        My son woke up with a very bad attitude. He didn’t want to get changed. In the morning I have very little patience in the morning.
        . We are always in a hurry trying to get out of the house and to school on time. . I try to ignore the wining but it is so irritating. i
        I just wanted to get him dressed and out the door. I try to ignore the wining and avoid nagging him too much or he will have a tantrum.
        I let his dad handle him because I lost patience. I know I should not avoid dealing with him in the morning, but I had it. I know I might be giving up some power. I have to work on that. Sometimes I just want to runaway! 😣

    • VAL Report

      So, call his bluff. It sounds as though he would welcome a 3rd party (independent source) to help problem solve. That person could help set up a structure for him to follow and establish effective consequences for failure to comply. No fun! Been there Did that! Good luck, VL



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