Thursday, May 29, 2008

Parental Authority


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.


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."


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?"

He says:

"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. ; )


  1. Oh thank you for sharing this!
    I was wondering, though, in the situation with your child (since I have this SAME issue with my oldest nagging her brothers) what do you mean by the "heart" issue, and how are you addressing that?

  2. Thank you for sharing ... I'm currently dealing with this with one of mine and I know *I* just need to be better about correcting her that first time. Sometimes it's just nice to know that others struggle with the same things that I do. :)

  3. Ahhh yes, Chinese water torture totally describes the constant question being asked over and over with in minutes!!!! And how true it is to correct it now so it doesn't become a burden later in life.... not to mention the selfishness and disregard to authority (your words) that it can show.

    Thank you for sharing... I posted a link from my blog today so that my young mom friends can also receive this blessing!!!

  4. I have this book, and I agree it is awesome! May I ask, do you agree with the author that, basically, if your child turns out ungodly that it is the parents' fault? That's the only part that I struggle with...
    May I copy down your statements on true submission and true authority for personal use? I've never read something so succinct on this before, and it hit the nail dead on the head!
    Thank you,

  5. Hi Ladies. Thanks for your comments. What great questions too!

    Great question, "four little penguins!" If you don't mind, I will make a separate blog post for your question because my answer might be too long here. : )

    Stephanie, I agree wholeheartedly. I love what Abbott says about that very issue: "I know that some mothers say that they have no time to pay so much attention to their children. But the fact is, that not one-third of the time is required to take care of an orderly family, which is necessary to take care of a disorderly one." I have seen that to be true.

    Hi "3 for Me!!" Glad you could relate. : ) Thanks so much for linking over to my site and for making me part of your "everyday fill." I am blessed.

    Hi Beth, another great question. Can I ask you what makes you think he places the full responsibility on the parent? Is that in Chapter 1?

    My quick answer would be "no" I don't think we as parents get to take credit for God's gift of faith (Ephesians 2:8-9: "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.")

    Would you like my medium answer? My "no" would include: AND YET we are co-laborers with God.

    We are as missionaries in our homes. And the nature of our task has eternal consequence. It think it is deeper than "getting" right behavior. It is training souls. The effort to gain submission, obedience and build a sweet fellowship does result in the blessing of an orderly home, but it also is the groundwork required so that we CAN "Train up a child in the way he should go" "Proverbs 22:6 and so we CAN teach God's Word "diligently unto thy children... talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up." Deut. 6:7.

    We have a responsibility to make ourselves heard. We cannot do what God calls us to (train and teach) with unruly children who disregard our authority. So, in that way we do contribute.

    Remember Eli who had allowed the sins of his sons to go on and on. Eventually Eli told sons to stop their wickedness (1 Samuel 2:23-25) but they would not head him. It was too late anyway, God had already decided to judge them because they did terrible things before Him including participating in religious prostitution- like their Canaanite neighbors. They were imitators of the world- in all of its wickedness. They had no heart for the Lord, yet they were in a place of service for him as priests (so they were at least 16 according to Britannica).

    1 Samuel 2:13 God spoke to Samuel regarding Eli and his wicked sons and said: "I have told him [Eli] that I will judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knows, because his sons made themselves vile, and he did not restrain them." 1 Samuel 2:13

    Where does our responsibility end? Where does it begin? Hmmm...this too could be an entire post, couldn't it? : )

    And yes, please feel free to copy down my statements on submission and authority. If you post it publicly (on your blog or the like) please just link it back to this blog. Thanks Beth. : )

  6. You're welcome, Rebecca. I know I read that book before I even had children (more than 11 yrs ago), and I think I better re-read it! I am half way into reading his other book "Children at Home" currently, which is written directly to a child.

  7. Rebecca~ Yes, Chap. 1 left me with that impression. It's been awhile since I read it, so I skimmed it this evening. This time my impression is not as strong...I'm sorry if I jumped the gun, so to speak. It is a very hard chapter for me, as I have a 19yo prodigal son. Abbott is right about the fact that this pain is like no other. I would not wish it on my worst enemy.
    If I may, I would also like to suggest the book "Jumping Ship" by Michael Pearl in dealing with raising faithful children. It is a very practical book, and a quick read.

    Thank you for allowing me to copy your statements. And thank you for your thoughtful replies. I hope that you expand on this subject in future posts.


  8. This is such a good post! May I link to it on my blog? I am in the process of training our 7 little ones--all under the age of 7. It is a lot of work, but the result--obedient hearts--is so rewarding. I esp. liked your statement that "authority without a sweet relationship is the worst kind of tyranny". This is so true! I can require strict obedience, but without a loving relationship, it will backfire.

    Thank you!

    In Christ, Laura

  9. I have ordered a copy of this book and I am looking forward to receiving and reading it. I struggle in this area with my little ones and I thank you for sharing your own experience. I feel very 'unprepared' and 'unknowledgeable' in parenting my little ones and often feel that I am 'failing'. I know God's grace is sufficient. I must remember to lean on Him and His Word and not my own strength. Thank you for your transparent sharing and wisdom.

  10. Thanks for your comments ladies.

    Yes, I'd be blessed if you link over Laura. Wow- seven under seven. What a blessing!

    Amen Amanda. Sounds like you are just in the place where God can get the glory. I'd love to hear more on how you like reading this book. Always love your comments. : )


  11. Hi "the four little penguins" I am making good on my promise to follow up with you! : ) Please see the new post entitled "Of Chores and Tattling." Blessings! Rebecca

  12. Dear Beth,

    Thank you so much for your follow up comment. I want you to know that you have been in my thoughts and prayers often. I am so sorry for the hurt you are experiencing.

    I am glad you brought up your concerns with Chapter 1. You did not at all jump the gun. I don't want anyone to think that I am co-signing that idea.

    Your recommendation by the Pearls is a great one. Thank you for sharing that.

    May God richly bless you.

  13. Hi Rebecca just running through your posts on child training. I have needed this lately I have been struggling with being consistent in my parenting, pregnancy wears me out but at what cost? This is a good reminder to push through despite my weakness.
    Thank you-
    Kelly K