Teaching children to obey is often a wearying task, for the components of obedience are many: wrestling with a little one’s will; uncovering little deceptions; administering encouragement and rewards — and occasional punishments.
These and a score of other challenges make raising children demanding. Thankfully, the years for instilling the ability to obey are also replete with good times and pleasant parent/child exchanges.
The lessons for instilling obedience require constant teaching, whether we do it by calculated instruction, or by quiet example.
The responsibility can wear parents out, and there are times when they could find it easy to say, “Enough!” and leave the rambunctious child to his or her own devices. But the task is too important for parents to allow themselves to quit or even take breaks. The wise parent must carry on in hope even when the task seems exhausting.
The reasons teaching obedience is important, even crucial, are more numerous than might appear. One could say we must teach obedience to have peace in the family, or to help the child develop a sense of boundaries. Both goals are worthy, but I mention a broader reason in my book, God’s House Rules.
The larger and lifelong goal is to prepare children to live wholesomely under a complex pattern of authorities that are sure to shape their environment wherever they are for an entire lifetime. I write:
Imagine a husband and his wife with two children living in an apartment building. On the one hand, the parents exercise authority over the children. But at the same time, the parents are under the authority of the building manager and the building’s rules.
When that mother drives to her job in the morning she respects the authority of highway ordinances. The policeman in a cruiser tucked behind a bridge abutment is there for a reason.
Then at her work as a department manager, she oversees the work of her team; but at the same time she is under the authority of the superintendent of the plant. The multiple authority structures we all live under are many and require balance.
Isn’t it true that if children learn obedience at home they will function better in their childhood world – school, summer camp, Sunday School class, scouting programs, baseball leagues – not to mention how they will do later as adults?
In passing, I note that focussing on the Apostle Paul’s one word of counsel (Children obey your parents in the Lord for this is right (Ephesians 6:1) leaves room for lots of play, pleasant exchanges, and fun-filled surprises in the home. In fact, fun experiences are even more likely when there is good order.
Some secular voices might counter that “obedience” is old-fashioned and overrated: after all, they say, children need to be free to be creative, to experiment and to test their wings. The two ideas of obedience and self-actualization are not mutually-exclusive, but creativity and experimentation need some degree of supervision.
Obedience goes to the heart of the matter, and if obedience is not viewed as fundamental other less wholesome styles of relating — chaotic or combative or competitive — will battle for dominance and prevail.
Above all, Christian parents understand that they are accountable to God for the task. And they know they are equipped by Him for the stewardship of parenting. They also know there are rewards to children when they are helped to live ordered lives (Exodus 20:12). God makes his promises.
Photo credit: woodleywonderworks (via flickr.com)