A. S. Makarenko Reference Archive


Lectures to Parents

Lecture 2
PARENTAL AUTHORITY


Our fathers and mothers are commissioned by society to bring up future citizens of our country. Their parental power, their authority in the eyes of their children, is based on this.

However, it would be awkward in a family situation to prove parental authority by continual reference to such social responsibility. Children's training begins at an age when logical proof and presentation of general social rights are impossible. Yet children cannot be brought up without authority. The very idea of authority consists in the fact that it demands no proof, that it is an attribute of older people that is taken for granted. Its strength and value lie in the fact that it is self-evident in the child's simple eyes. Mother and father must have this kind of authority in their children's eyes.

One often hears the question: "What is to be done with the child when he does not obey?" This "does not obey" is a sign that the parents lack authority.

Usually, parents whose children "do not obey" are inclined to think that authority is inborn, is a special gift, that if you lack this talent there is nothing to be done about it. You can only envy those who do possess it. Such parents are mistaken. Authority can be acquired in every family. Unfortunately, one does meet parents who base their authority on faulty premises. Their aim is to have children obey. This is a mistake for obedience cannot be the goal. Obedience can be only one of the means toward bringing up the child. Parents who do not think about goals want obedience for obedience' sake. If children obey, parents are tranquil. This very tranquility is really their aim. Authority established on such false premises is quickly destroyed. Some parents achieve obedience by sacrificing all other aims and their children grow up obedient but weak.

There are many kinds of false authority and we will examine some of them in more or less detail.

Authority by Suppression

This is the most frightening kind of authority although not the most harmful. Such authority is usually exercised by fathers. If father always roars at home, is always angry, raises a storm over every trifle, is always reaching for a stick, answers every question rudely, punishes every transgression -- this is authority by suppression.

Such paternal terror keeps the whole family in fear, not only the children, mother, too. It does harm not only by frightening the children but also by reducing the mother to a mere cipher. Such authority only teaches children to keep their distance from terrifying papa; it develops lying and cowardice, and at the same time teaches the child cruelty. From oppressed and spiritless children develop either drivelling, good-for-nothing people or petty tyrants avenging, all their lives, the oppression suffered in childhood. This most savage sort of authority is exercised only by uncultured parents and, happily, is now dying out.

Authority by Aloofness

There are fathers and mothers who are really convinced that in order to have children obey they must have very little conversation with them, must keep their distance and only appear as superiors. Father retires to his office and seldom shows himself, like a pontiff. He dines apart, amuses himself apart, his orders are transmitted to the family through mother. It also happens with mothers. They carry on their own lives and interests and the children find themselves in the care of a nurse or domestic worker. This kind of authority is useless, such a family is irrationally organized.

Authority by Swaggering

This is a special variety of "authority by aloofness" but perhaps even more harmful. Although every citizen of the Soviet Union serves his country, some people consider their own service specially important, they point this out to their children at every step, puff themselves up and boast at home that they alone can do this or that job, harp on their achievements and are overbearing to other people. Impressed by such behavior, the children too, often become boastful with their comrades and brag, "My father is this, my father is that, my father is a writer, my father is a commander, my father is a celebrity." In this atmosphere of pompousness, the "important" father does not know where his children are headed.

Sometimes we find this attitude in mothers, too. A special dress, an important acquaintance, a trip to a resort, all this gives an excuse for boasting, for separating oneself from other people and from one's own children.

Authority by Pedantism

In this case parents pay attention to children, work with them, but they work like bureaucrats. They believe that children must accept their every word with trepidation, as holy. Orders are given in a cold tone of voice and once given, quickly become law. Such parents fear most of all that the child may think papa is mistaken, that papa is not a strong man. If such a papa says "Tomorrow it will rain, one can't go for a walk" and if tomorrow there is good weather -- all the same one may not go for a walk! Papa does not like movies -- so he forbids the children to go to the movies, even to good ones. Papa punishes the child; then finds that the child's fault was not as bad as it seemed. But papa does not change the punishment: "Once I have said it, so it must be." For such a papa there is always something to busy himself about. In every act of the child he sees some infringement of law and order and continually badgers the child with new commands and directions. The life, the interests, the growth of the child go unnoticed, he is concerned with nothing but his own bureaucratic command of the family.

Authority by Reasoning

In this case parents literally gnaw at children with endless instructions and talks. Instead of saying a few words, perhaps in a jocular tone, the parent will sit the child down facing him and launch into a boring and garrulous speech. Such parents are convinced that pedagogical wisdom consists of preaching. There is very little joy and few smiles in such a family. The parents strive with all their might to be virtuous. They want to appear faultless before the children. But they forget that children are not adults, that children live their own lives and that one must respect this life. The child lives more emotionally, more passionately than an adult. The habit of thinking comes to the child gradually and quite slowly and the constant verbalization of the parent, the incessant nagging and chatter passes by the child's consciousness. Parents will never develop authority by this method.

Authority Through Love

Many parents are convinced that children obey if they love their parents. To gain their children's love they pour tender words, caresses and endearments over them in a flood. Whenever the child disobeys they say "Don't you love papa?" Such a family becomes submerged in a sea of sentimentality.

Parents jealously look into their children's eyes demanding tenderness and love. Mother will say to an acquaintance right in front of the child: "He loves papa and mama just terribly. He is such a loving child."

There are dangers in this direction. Soon children realize that they can deceive mama and papa when they please, it is only necessary to seem to be loving. From an early age the child may begin to understand that one can get around people, to calculate coldly and cynically. On the other hand, the child may look on everyone but the parents as strange and unsympathetic, not loving, since he does not understand comradeliness. This is the most dangerous type of authority. It develops insincerity and egoism. The first victims are often the parents themselves.

Authority by Kindness

This is the most stupid kind of authority. Obedience is called forth by kisses and flattery, by giving in, being soft and good. Father and mother appear to the child in the guise of angels of goodness who permit everything, are not stingy. They are remarkable parents. They are afraid of any kind of conflict and prefer peace in the family. They are ready to sacrifice anything so that everything will run smoothly. Pretty soon it is the children who are dictating to the parents. Parental non-resistance opens the door wide to all the child's desires, caprices and demands. Occasionally the parents permit themselves some small resistance but by then it is too late.

Authority Through Friendship

Quite often, even before the children are born, the parents make a pact: our children will be our friends. In general, this is, of course, very good. Children and parents must be friends. But parents must remain the older members of a family collective and the children the younger members being brought up. If friendship goes beyond these limits, the child begins to bring up the parents. We find this most often among the intelligentsia. The children call the parents Peter or Maria, mock at them, interrupt them rudely, argue at every step. This is not real friendship, for no friendship is possible without mutual respect.

Authority By Bribery

The most immoral kind of authority exists when obedience is bought by gifts and promises. Parents say: "If you obey, I'll buy you a toy horse. If you obey we shall go to the circus." Of course, some encouragement is necessary in a family, something like a reward or prize, but in no case should the child be rewarded for obedience or for good relations with parents. He may be rewarded for studying well or for carrying out some specially difficult work. But even then the reward must not be announced beforehand to stimulate the children to do their school work or other tasks.

We have considered several kinds of authority and there are many more; authority by being jolly, or erudite, by acting with children as "man-to-man."

Some parents do not think about authority at all. They just live anyhow, bringing up the children haphazardly, inconsistently. One day the parent punishes the child for a trivial thing, next day promises a bribe, on the following day again punishes the child. Such parents are always in an uproar and run about like chickens with their heads off; completely impotent, lacking in any understanding of what they are about. The father may exercise one kind of authority and the mother a different one. Their children must become diplomats and wind their way between father and mother.

Do not forget that the main basis for parental authority is the life and work of the parents, their task as citizens, their behavior. If parents are living rationally, if they have clear and significant goals, if they are fully conscious of their actions, they need not hunt for any other basis or seek anything artificial. They will have authority n their family.

As soon as children begin to grow up they are interested in the work mother and father are doing, where they work, what their social conditions are. It is important that children see their parents' work as socially valuable, not isolated but against the background of the whole country. The children should feel not boastful but good Soviet pride in their parents; at the same time they should know about the great men and women of our land so that their mother and father appear as participants in the same great comrades endeavors.иии Children should know about their parents and their achievements, too. True Soviet authority...is that of a member of the collective. If you have succeeded in bringing up your son so that he is proud of the whole plant where his father works and rejoices in its successes -- then you have brought him up correctly.

But parents are members not only of their collective but of a socialist society and must appear as participants in this life in the eyes of their children. International events, literary achievements -- all this should be reflected in the thought and feelings of father. Only parents who live a full life, citizens of our country, will have real authority in their children's eyes. Please do not think you can live such a life "on purpose" to startle the children with your abilities! You must be sincere and really live such a life. Rest assured -- they will see for themselves what they need to.

But you are not only a citizen. You are also a father. It is your business to be the best possible one. You should know what the child is interested in, likes and dislikes, wants and does not want, who the child is friends with, plays with and what the games are, what he reads and how he reacts to what he reads, how he studies at school. Parents should know his relations with the teachers, what his difficulties are and his behavior in class. You should know these things from the earliest years. Then you will not be suddenly surprised by difficulties, conflicts or unpleasantnesses but anticipate and prevent them.

This does not mean, however, that one may annoy a child with constant questioning, cheap and insulting spying. From the beginning, arrange matters so that the children themselves will tell you what they are doing and be interested in your knowing. Invite your son's friends, visit them, get acquainted with their families. This does not need much time, only sincere attention to the children and their lives. Your interest will be noticed by the children. They love this attention and respect parents for it....

Giving help to the child strengthens your authority. Every child needs advice and help sometimes. He may not ask for help -give it when needed. Sometimes the help can best be given by a joke, or some directions or suggestions.

Parents' help must not be obtrusive, tiresome or boring. Sometimes it is best to let the child overcome his difficulty himself, only resolve problems too complicated for him. He must learn to overcome obstacles but not be allowed to get in despair about a problem. Be sure he can solve it himself. Let him see your faith in his strength and ability. The child should feel you by his side, your wise care, but at the same time know that you demand something of him, that you do not intend to do everything for him and relieve him of responsibility.

The child must never think that your guidance of the family is only for your own pleasure but understand that you are meeting your responsibility to society....Even in early years the child on a desert island.

In conclusion, real authority is necessary in a family. Real authority rests upon the parent's social activity, social feeling, and the parent's knowledge of the life of the child, and his acceptance of responsibility.