Morality & Obedience

I just read this article on parenting your strong-willed child. My wife and I have a strong-willed household. I will confess that I am the culprit behind the majority of this. I am working through this–trying to sift the wheat from the chaff.

As it pertains to parenting your image bearers, the author brings up a helpful distinction between raising moral children versus obedient children.

A little background, my wife and I cut our parenting teeth on a variety of parenting that was all about obedience. That is, this phenomenon in evangelical circles called “first-time obedience.” Indubitably we were way too strict and militant with our first child (hey! I have been told this is typical. . .but typical does not make right). We expected her to jump when we told her to. There did not have to be good rationale as to why she ought to jump. Simply the fact that her dictators, er, parents told her to. After all, God had placed us as authorities in her life and we had the jurisdiction and the prerogative to expect said obedience.

Dr. Markham’s article challenged me on one primary level in my parenting that I wanted to pass on along to you, dear reader. She writes (brace yourself!):

 Of course you want to raise a responsible, considerate, cooperative child who does the right thing, even when it’s hard. But that doesn’t imply obedience. That implies doing the right thing because the child WANTS to. As H.L. Mencken famously observed, morality is doing what’s right, no matter what you’re told. Obedience is doing what you’re told, no matter what’s right.

So of course you want your child to do what you say.  But not because she’s obedient, meaning that she always does what someone in authority tells her to do.  After all, that someone in authority might be a mean girl in the 8th grade, or a high school coach who makes a habit of molesting kids. No, you want her to do what you say because she trusts YOU, because she’s learned that even though you can’t always say yes to what she wants, you have her best interests at heart.  You want to raise a child who has self-discipline, takes responsibility, and is considerate — and most important, has the discernment to figure out who to trust and when to be influenced by someone else. That discernment only comes when kids are taught to think for themselves, rather than simply obeying authority.

Implied within this is the fact that your child trusts you. I have found it intellectually lazy to merely tell a child that they ought to listen to Mommy and Daddy because God has placed us as an authority in her life. It is lazy because, although true at a most basic level, we have not done the hard work of appealing to the child’s motivation itself. That is, if I were to be told by my boss that I ought to do something because God has placed her in authority over me, which is also true!, I don’t think my reaction would be the same as what I am seeking from my child. Think Golden Rule here, for simplicity’s sake.

I am taking these two paragraphs as a challenge to be the kind of parent that is trustworthy. This begins with me first deeply caring about my child as a person. Not merely because she is my flesh and blood, but because she is a human being firstnot to mention the implications of this worldview of affecting how we treat our neighbors.

What is more, this is going to take a little more thoughtfulness on my part–remember the charge of intellectual laziness? I need to pause long enough to consider whether what my call to obedience is motivated by–sloth or righteousness? I am afraid to say that more often than  not, the former is the motivation for why I want my child to pick up that sock.

It is true that I want my child to pick up after herself, but because of the virtue of being clean and responsibility and some other reasons I am sure–you can be creative I am sure. But, I have found that most of my struggles for obedience have been the result of barking terse orders rather than getting on my hands and knees and picking up (my own) socks. What’s the harm in serving my child in picking up her socks. I have imported a lot of good reasons to not serve her–“Well, I want her to learn to do this!” Or “I told her to do it and she ought to obey me!” What a slothful despot I have been.

I must be reminded of the Latin origins of our word for “parent.” It essentially means to bring forth. Assuredly this refers to the actual birthing of a child. Yet, a father does not birth. So I must take it  a little more loosely. My task is to bring my child forth into a moral, Christ-loving adult–emphasis on the latter, for from it stems the former.

May us bringers forth never forget that labor is not for a day or two but a lifetime. Yes, a lifetime–not just until 18 years. I lean on my dad for wisdom even still. . . because I trust him, not quintessentially because God placed him as an authority in my life.

May we all gain a full-orbed vision of bringing forth. May we not lead with the authority card. When that happens, you can be assured that their is no trust.

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