Thursday, May 29, 2008
My sister Liz and I were recently discussing true obedience and the role of parental authority. It was such a profitable discussion that I wanted to share it.
Lately I began noticing an issue with a younger child (not pictured, to protect the guilty) who, although very obedient to any direct command, will ask to do something that I have already said "No" to previously~ again and again.
"Can I pour that?" "No sweetie."
A few minutes later...
"Can I pour that?" "I said, no, remember? Don't ask me again."
A few minutes later...
"Can I pour that?" Bummer. That's disobedience.
It reminds me of Chinese water torture- a continual dripping. She must not be trained to get her way this way. Or can you imagine the nagging she'd do as a wife? Wow.
Like I said, she's really quite young. So, we're just re-training. It is now a rule not to ask again. No reminders. And we're working on the heart of the issue as well. I am already seeing improvement.
The spirit of true submission says, "Not my will, but thine be done." True submission is satisfied with the answer, "I will talk with you about it another time" or "It's not for you to know right now." It is satisfied with "no."
True authority does not always explain why. It expects immediate and cheerful obedience.
The other night I had a nightmare about a child who was told by their parent to get into the car quickly, as an obviously drunk and agitated man was approaching the family. Rather than obey the child asked, "Why?" She felt she must be given an explanation rather than just submitting to her parent's authority. She wouldn't budge without being threatened. My heart was racing! In the dream I was waiting for this child who was s-l-o-w-l-y walking toward the car I was driving. At the same time the drunk and disturbed man was walking at a faster pace towards us. I couldn't leave her behind, but the other children in the vehicle were being put in danger by her lack of obedience. My heart was racing as I snatched her into my car and tried to drive off.
It was a bad dream, but it got me thinking about the danger can we place ourselves, and others in, if our children are not trained to submit to our authority.
A FABULOUS RESOURCE
The Mother at Home was probably the first book on parenting I ever read that really made sense. I received it from my friend Doreen who painstakingly copied it page by page for me because it was out of print. Thank you Do! That's how important she thought it was and I have to agree.
As I re-read this book, originally written in 1833 by Rev. John S.C. Abbott, I continue to be impressed with his ability to clearly see what it takes to well govern a family. I have found this resource so helpful*. So many of the ideas were revolutionary to me as a young parent. Maybe I can give you a taste here by sharing a few quotes on this issue of "Maternal Authority."
HOW IS THE HABIT OF OBEDIENCE TO BE ESTABLISHED?
After clearly establishing the dangers of parenting in a realm where obedience to your authority has not been established, he poses the question, "how is this habit of obedience to be established?"
"This is not so difficult a matter as many may imagine. It does not require profound learning, or a mysterious skill, which pertains but to the few. Where do you find the best regulated families? Are they in the houses of the rich? Do the children of our most eminent men furnish the best pattern of imitation? Obviously not. In some of the most humble dwellings we find the beautiful spectacle of an orderly, well regulated family."
"The principles by which we are to be guided are very simple and very plain."
"NEVER GIVE A COMMAND WHICH YOU DO NOT INTEND SHALL BE OBEYED. There is no more effectual way of teaching a child disobedience, than by giving commands which you have no intention of enforcing. A child is thus habituated to disregard its mother; and in short time the habit becomes so strong, and the child's contempt for the mother so confirmed, that entreaties and threats are alike unheeded.
"Mary, let that book alone," says a mother to her little daughter, who is trying to pull it from the table.
Mary stops for a moment, and then takes hold of the book again.
Pretty soon the mother looks up and sees that Mary is still playing with the Bible. "Did you not hear me tell you to let that book alone?" she exclaims: "Why don't you obey?"
Mary takes her hand away for a moment, but is soon again at her forbidden amusement. By and by down comes the Bible upon the floor. Up jumps the mother, and hastily giving the child a passionate blow, exclaims, "There then, obey me next time." The child screams, and the mother picks up the Bible, saying, "I wonder why my children do not obey better."
This is not a very interesting family scene, but every one of my readers will admit that it is not an uncommon one. And is it strange that a child, thus managed, should be disobedient? No. She is actually led on by her mother to insubordination; she is actually taught to pay no heed to her directions. Even the improper punishment which sometimes follows transgression, is not inflicted on account of disobedience, but for the accidental consequences. In the case above described, had the Bible not fallen, the disobedience of the child would have passed unpunished. Let it be an immutable principle in family government, that your word is law."
~ Rev. John S.C. Abbott, 1833
He goes on to talk about tying heart strings with our children. Because authority without a sweet relationship is the worst kind of tyranny. Abbott writes about the importance of, and the proper way, to engage children, to be sensitive to their desires without feeding indulgent disobedience. A parent-child relationship needs both elements- authority and sweet fellowship.
Lots of parental wisdom in this gem of a book.
* Disclaimer: There are a couple times in which Rev. Abbott suggests first to pray for your child (with them there) that God would forgive their fault, then he suggests that the parent tell the child to ask God a second time for forgiveness- this time on their own. I think I'd just have the child ask God directly and skip the middle man. ; )