It seems the word empowerment, or some derivative of it, is everywhere these days. We want to empower girls around the world to get an education, empower impoverished populations to build self-sustaining businesses, empower the weak and the marginalized to become strong and stand tall. It sounds great. It sounds well-intentioned and altruistic.
And yet I struggle with this idea of empowerment. I don’t struggle with the idea of power. I mean, if by power we mean confidence, strength, belief in our own capabilities, then I think feeling a sense of power is a healthy part of living a life of purpose. To have power is to accept that we have influence over our own path.
But empowerment—to imbue someone else with power—I struggle with that idea a lot. The word empowerment gets thrown around the coaching world with laxity, but I find its implications troubling. Because empowerment requires a giver and a receiver; it starts from an imbalance of power and suggests a bestowing of something that is not mine to give. As a parent coach, I don’t empower anybody to do anything. There is only one that empowers, and His name is the Holy Spirit. He is the One who imbues power in the place of weakness, as Paul so eloquently shares in 2 Corinthians chapter 12: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (vv. 9b-10)
If you are a parent who feels weak, unheard, out of your element, overwhelmed, disrespected, or disillusioned, I can help you. As a parent coach I can help you sort through disappointments and unmet expectations, discern what matters to you when it comes to your family and I can help you make changes toward a healthier, more satisfying future. I can assist you, walk through the fire with you, support you and encourage you. But I can’t empower you. No coach can. If they claim they can, beware of what they’re selling because power isn’t a commodity we portion out like new pencils on the first day of school.
I think the semantics matter here because words themselves are powerful, and if we misuse them we undermine communication. If we become fast and lose with the words we use—oh, you knew what I meant!—we dull the sharp edge of the best tool we have to connect with one another. If you and I use the same words but we mean something different by them, we are not truly communicating. At the very least, we are not communicating what we think we are. And when it comes to something as important as walking in the integrity of our own values as parents, it matters to me that I communicate clearly.
I enjoy helping clients gain confidence, clarity, and vision. I love pointing out to a struggling mother all the things I see her doing well week to week. I get excited when a client shares with me a breakthrough moment with their reticent child or a success they experienced when they dared to do the same old task in a new way and it worked. I think all of these experiences can help a parent walk a little taller and see things a little differently. If this is power, let it be. Just know that power was never mine to give. Perhaps is was simply theirs to find as the Lord saw fit. I count myself fortunate to be the one who gets to walk alongside when it happens.