Articles - Parenting

Obedience (part 2)

"Obedience should be immediate, complete, without challenge or complaint and from a heart that wants to do what is right."
This comment has raised some interesting discussion and over the next few weeks we will endeavour to explain the comment further.

What does the Bible say about obedience?
In 1 Sam 15:22-23 God puts a premium on obedience when Samuel tells Saul “To obey is better than sacrifice.” Colossians 3:20 exhorts children to “obey your parents” and in Exodus 20:12 we are commanded to “Honour your Father and your mother.” Jesus says that if we love him we will obey his commandments. John 14:15

God is the ultimate parent and He expects us to obey His command even if we do not understand the reason for the command. We are usually ok with that as we have complete trust in His wisdom. By teaching first-time obedience to our children we are teaching them to trust us, which of course requires us to prove ourselves as parents to be trustworthy. We are also preparing them to bring the same level of ‘blind’ obedience to their relationship with God.

First-time obedience can also be a matter of life and death. Young children do not have the neural pathways to understand the consequences of their actions so, as they run towards a road, we need to have the confidence that when we call their name or shout “stop” they will obey immediately and without challenge.

Of course children must be encouraged to think for themselves but they must first have the foundation of God’s law embedded in their hearts and minds. They must be trained to obey first and ask questions later. If we do not lay this foundation, school or peers will do the job for us with dire consequences.

It should be noted that while parents should be able to expect ‘blind obedience’ when necessary (e.g. in emergency situations) this should be the exception rather than the rule. In most situations, when issuing an instruction, parents should explain the moral and/or practical reason why they wish the child to act in a certain way. By the age of three most instructions should be tied to a moral reason why.

That said, first-time obedience can and should be taught to children even before they are old enough to understand the moral reason why. Remember, in children, action precedes understanding. They have the ability to learn to do a task before they will be able to understand why it needs to be done. As Paul explains, with understanding and maturity, the milk of the word is replaced by the meat of the word.

The first-time obedience principle is mainly aimed at very young children. As children demonstrate maturity, one of the freedoms they may gain is permission to negotiate if they disagree with an instruction and have a compelling reason that you may not have considered (see upcoming post on The Appeal Process).

The aim of parenting is to transition from rule-based parenting in childhood when concrete boundaries are needed, to principle-based parenting as the teen years approach. As we wrote previously, “lead by the power of your authority when children are young and with the strength of your influence when they are older.”

By expecting first-time obedience in young children you are establishing your influence.
God gave the Children of Israel the Law as they were being formed into a nation. He later followed it up with the Law of Grace.

Requiring first-time obedience sets a consistent standard with predictable consequences depending on the child’s response. The failure of parents to maintain a consistent standard only lures children into sin by causing them to think they may get away with anything. The child is always insecure about the boundaries, never knowing where the line will be drawn on that particular day. Often parents draw the line in a different place depending on their state of mind, tiredness, busyness etc. First-time obedience allows the child the security of consistency as obedience is based on a standard rather than the whim of the parent.

What does first-time obedience look like in practice?
When you call your child expect an immediate “Yes mummy/daddy” as the child stops what they are doing and either looks at you or comes to you. Explain what you want the child to do and again expect a “Yes mummy/daddy.” If a child can respond by the count of three they can respond when first called. Often it is reasonable to give a five minute warning so that the child is not unnecessarily exasperated.

What problem do we have with obedience? Children will rise to whatever standard we teach them, so why is it so hard for parents to get their head around this concept?


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