I have noticed a trend in parenting advice in the last couple of years. The word “obedience” seems to have become a bad word in modern parenting.
I have seen parenting articles that recommend relaxing your standards for obedience (and even taking comfort in your child’s rebellion!) because obedience is not really a desirable trait in an adult. Yes, it’s convenient for us if our kids come to the table when we call them and go to bed when we ask them to, but parenting is not about convenience. Parents should want their children to think for themselves and to have the courage to do what they feel is right. A child who has been trained to be compliant will likely fall into the wrong influences and do things they shouldn’t because of peer pressure.
This philosophy of parenting puts pressure on Christian parents to stop requiring “first time obedience.” In Christian terms, I have seen articles that recommend giving their children grace instead of consequences because “we don’t always obey God the first time either.”
It all sounds good on the surface and puts pressure on parents who do require obedience.
“I respect my children too much to ask them to do something just because I want them to.”
“When my children are not listening to me, what they need most is for me to just love them.”
“I’m showing my children grace so that they can understand God’s grace.”
I think that today’s parenting philosophies are a reaction to the heavily authoritarian parenting of the past. And they’re right, to some degree. “Do it because I said so!” isn’t Biblical parenting either. Anger and harshness have no place in proper parenting, and our discipline should not be about the degree to which our child is annoying us. This is clearly not right. And it’s true that parenting should not be primarily about our own convenience. But does that mean that our children should decide whether or not to come when we call them to the table? That we should accept their refusal to obey because they are tired, hungry, or any number of other things? That we should negotiate with them and make compromises with them rather than asking them to do something and expecting that they will?
Do we really want adults who aren’t “obedient”? Do we want our children to, as adults:
- Argue with police when pulled over for a traffic stop?
- Text while driving because they “know they can handle it?”
- Fail to comply with the requirements of their job, either passively or by directly arguing with their boss?
- Face penalties for tax evasion?
Okay, maybe not.
SO WHERE’S THE TRUTH?
The truth is that our kids need a Biblical concept of authority. They need to understand the authority structures that God has put in place for our good, and they need to submit with willing hearts knowing that God is our ultimate authority!
1. Parents have authority because God has given it to them.
Our children are not ours. They were created by God, and they belong to Him. We will answer to the Lord for how we parent them. Children are given the clear command from God to obey their parents in all things and to honor them (Ephesians 6:1-2, Colossians 3:20). Parents are given the command not to provoke their children to anger (through unfair rules, inconsistent discipline, favoritism, etc.) but to bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4).
The MacArthur study Bible says this of Ephesians 6:4:
“This calls for systematic discipline and instruction, which brings children to respect the commands of the Lord as the foundation of all life, godliness, and blessing.”
So when we require obedience from our children, in accordance with the commands given to us in Scripture (not in anger, etc.), we are not stunting their development. We are not on a power trip. Rather we are being obedient to God ourselves and putting our children in a place of safety and blessing.
2. Childhood is a time in which children are under the authority of parents for the purpose of preparing them to be independent adults.
I really think that our culture has set up a false dichotomy on this issue – children are seen as either compliant, gullible, and naive, or they stand on their own two feet and think for themselves.
It’s not one or the other! Instead, children are children. They lack experience and maturity. They lack the ability to set and achieve long term goals. They tend to be impulsive and choose what’s fun over what’s necessary. At this time in their lives, guidance from parents protects them and prepares them for the future. Do we really believe that the child who takes out the trash when he is asked to is in danger of listening to everything the bully down the street says? Obedience does not have to be blind obedience or gullible obedience. It’s not obedience to anyone – it’s obedience to specific authorities, and I think kids are smart enough to understand this.
Obedience protects our children as they grow in maturity. And how do children grow in maturity? They grow while living in the safety of our homes. Our toddler is safe in the parking lot because we require him to ride in a stroller or hold someone’s hand. The day will come when he can safely navigate a parking lot on his own. Children also grow in wisdom as we teach them God’s ways. Our oldest son has said, “Oh, I see…” as we have shown him how the Bible applies to his struggles with friends, school, and responsibility. One day he will live on his own and make his own choices. Now is the training ground for that time.
This is a good place to point out that we can teach our children to appeal to authority – both to our authority and to others in their lives. For example, “Mom, I know it’s bed time, but would it be okay if I finish this chapter?” Also, we don’t have to obey authority when they are asking us to do something that is a clear violation of Scripture. And yet most commands that a parent, teacher, or coach give that kids may not agree with are probably just differences in opinion and not truly asking kids to sin.
3. Obedience to parents is only part of our children’s relationship to God, yet it is beneficial to the child.
Children are not saved because they obey us. So then, does obedience have any benefit to the child? Yes it does! Ephesians 6:2-3 promises blessing to the child who honors his parents! A couple years ago, we met with our associate pastor to talk about an issue that one of our boys was having with anger. A few weeks later, I mentioned to our pastor that his advice was working in helping our son to get control of his temper. “But,” I commented, “we haven’t seen any heart change yet.”
“No, no – that’s GOOD!” our pastor told me. “It’s much easier for children to hear the spiritual truths that we are teaching them when their behavior is under control!”
I was so encouraged that he said that. And as time has gone on, we have seen that to be very true.
4. As children grow from young people to young adults, they will transition from obedience to wisdom.
Requiring obedience of our children does not mean that we think they should always obey us like little toddlers! Our children are headed toward adulthood and the responsibility of making their own decisions. My husband and I are not concerned that our sons learn to “think for themselves” and “do what they think is right.” We want them to do what GOD says is right! We want them to seek His wisdom. We want them to have a proper understanding of their own knowledge in comparison to His unsearchable knowledge. When life gets tough, we want them to turn to God’s word, not to “follow their hearts.”
Here is where the book of Proverbs is a treasure chest for parents and children!
It answers questions like:
What is wisdom?
How can we get wisdom?
What is a fool?
What types of people should we be friends with?
Who should we avoid?
How should we do our work?
Does God care about honesty?
What about when no one else is doing the right thing?
Authority and obedience are misunderstood concepts in our culture because authority is often twisted to be either harsh or permissive.
Maybe this is a good way to sum it up:
Authority apart from God’s instruction to parents results in a mindset of power and control. This leads to anger and harshness and “BECAUSE I SAID SO!” and bitterness in the heart of the child.
An emphasis on grace apart from God’s instruction to parents results in permissiveness. It provides a seemingly godly excuse for laziness and a lack of faithfulness in our parenting.
A child-centered approach to parenting with the child and parent on equal footing (or the child calling the shots!) is a clear departure from Scripture, and according to the book of Proverbs, invites ruin to the child.
Ephesians 6:2-3 “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER (which is the first commandment with a promise), SO THAT IT MAY BE WELL WITH YOU, AND THAT YOU MAY LIVE LONG ON THE EARTH.”
And one final note if you’ve made it this far… Children who respect authority are a joy to be around and a blessing to others! We have all experienced a child who is a demanding brat, but the child who listens to authority is pleasant to talk to and interact with. I was talking with another mom at church so told me that she thinks about how her children’s behavior will impact others when deciding what to teach them at home. In other words, a habit of whining every time he doesn’t get his way will place an undue burden on teachers and others. No child obeys perfectly, but the one who has been taught to obey will experience a lot of benefits as a result!
More for Moms:
- Faithful Mothering – For the days when you wonder if you’re doing the right thing, or just making it worse!
- Raising Boys who are Courageous – When you’re wondering if you need to “toughen up” your son.