Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Too Much Unnecessary Authority?

“To secure this habit of obedience, the mother must exercise great-self restraint [temptation to use this for convenience]; she must never give a command which she does not intend to see carried out to the full. And she must not lay upon her children burdens, grievous to be borne, of command heaped upon command. Children who are trained to perfect obedience may be trusted with a good deal of liberty: they receive a few directions which they know they must not disobey; and for the rest they are left to learn how to direct their own actions, even at the cost of some small mishaps.”  ~Charlotte Mason~

Ephesians 6:2 “Father’s do not exasperate your children.”

While there is surprisingly little in the Bible about parenting it is clear on the fact that as parents we have authority and responsibility over our children. We are told repeatedly to train them, instruct them, pray for them, nurture and raise them.

But what does this look like?

As a young parent I always assumed that a good parent (or child) was marked by the ability to simply speak a command and a child would obey without excuse or argument.

I have changed my mind.

First of all, chances are if/when you see a parent and child communicate in that way, it’s not the way that they always interact with one another. We know this because the Bible tells us we’re all sinners (even the good kids) and selfishness is a part of human nature that exists in all of us, so perfect obedience does not exist, nor is pride a “once-stopped, problem solved” issue, it’s a life-long battle, which means we will always struggle in some way with authority in our lives. Secondly, even if we could be that parent and have that child, and our interactions looked that way, it’s not the way that it should look.

Let me explain.

While “perfect” obedience has it’s necessary place, and is our goal for certain times, situations and behaviors; it isn’t the only or even primary way for a child to function or to be trained by.

Imagine if that’s really what a family looked and functioned like. Where would be the training? The discipleship? The growth or even the understanding in unquestioned and unexplained obedience?

Perfect obedience is simply not the way it’s supposed to work. Okay, so, maybe I’m writing this strictly for myself, and that’s okay if I am, because Lord knows I need to hear this. The question begs to be asked, if our goal is perfect obedience are we really fulfilling our role as godly parents?

When we approach the task of parenting with the goal of complete authority (or in an authoritative manner) we will cause a lot of damage and exasperation in our children. Having had this done to me a time or two as a child under my parents authority and having already done this to my son, let me tell you – you will never accomplish your parenting goals by primarily focusing on the “I am the parent, you are the child” position.

I want to be clear that I am not advocating for a parent to ever allow a child to not obey a direct command given. What, I am saying is that there are times when we are giving commands when/where we shouldn’t. All to often we are abusing the position of authority that we have over our children by imposing commands that we could be (or should be) without.

There are certainly appropriate times (and seasons) in our children’s lives when we hold the right and the responsibility to “lay down the law”, teaching our children what is expected of them and what the consequences are if those expectations are not met, but this should not be the constant expectation or standard that should be maintained. Consistency in parenting is crucial, but proper consistency can only be maintained IF our standards are not too high.

So how do we know if our expectations/standards are to high? 

~ The child(ren) does not hold an accurate view of right and wrong or the ability to discern what makes things right or wrong. We cannot prepare our children for every situation they will face (even while living under our roof) and if we are their primary decision makers and moral compass we prevent them from experiencing the necessary process of what it takes to make their own decisions and standards AND living with the consequences that follow. (And by consequences I don’t necessarily mean from the parent, I mean emotional, relational, mental and/or spiritual)

~ Your child is uncomfortable (or not allowed) saying “no” to your requests or favors. If our child is not allowed to ever say no, that means he is not allowed to give you the gift of service either. If he is expected to obey your voice as a command at all times, he has no right to refuse to help you out. So your requests are no longer requests but commands rather.

~ The child often demonstrates feelings of not being good enough, low-self esteem, anxiety and/or unrealistic fears. This could mean a variety of things really, but using my son as an example, he showed a drastic increase in anxiety and unrealistic fears (what if’s) and a desire to control any situation, or people, that he could. When he wasn’t able to control a situation or could see his control “slipping away” it would result in a complete melt down and anxiety attacks (of sorts). He would tell me that his mind would start going crazy and he couldn’t think any more. This is when he would have his most severe reactions and freak-outs.

~ The child treats younger siblings and friends with too high of expectations and breaks-down easily (or in anger) when things do not go the way he thinks they should go. This goes hand-in-hand with the point above and the fact that if a child feels like they have a lack of control of their own life, they will try to control what things they can, this often includes younger siblings and friends, but can include situations, toys, places, etc.

As painful as it is to share some of Tim and I’s examples and mistakes in parenting I do it because I think that this is an important issue that other parents may struggle with to. And while I do strongly believe in parental authority I feel like there are also important limits that need to set in place (for both the parent and the child). I pray that maybe someone else can benefit from our experiences and not make the mistakes we did.

1 comment:

For His Glory said...

Interesting post. Lots to think about and consider. Thanks for sharing.