Is obey the new four letter word? Sometimes it feels like it – especially when I post and share my thoughts and ideas on parenting. I remember the Facebook comments when I first shared this post on teaching kids to obey with the “Yes, Mommy” game.
Some of the comments included the opinion that kids shouldn’t be taught to obey at all. “What are they? Dogs? Robots?” In spite of our many accepted differences of opinion, venom is spewed when blog moms promote obedience.
After a recent thread on my Meaningful Mama Facebook page I knew it was time to open up the dialogue on my blog. It’s time to pose the question: “Is obey the new four letter word?”
The post I shared on my page originated on the blog Imperfect Homemaker, and was entitled, “6 Things my Kids are Not Allowed to Say to Adults.” She didn’t want kids to say “no” to adults.
One of the readers on my Facebook page responded with this comment: “…Teaching children blind obedience does nothing but empower abuse. Respectfully, they (kids) can say anything. Anything.” Another reader wrote, “I don’t want obedient kids I want happy kids!” There were many opposed to the idea of teaching kids to obey with a variety of strong opinions and concerns, and I want to address some of those concerns today.
First, I must say that I love hearing varied opinions, so I want to thank all of my readers for their comments. I don’t need everyone to agree with me, but I do want to take the time to share my thoughts. I want to clarify why I don’t want “OBEY” to be the new four letter word. You may never agree with me, but I hope you’ll at least hear me out on the issue.
I also need to preface that I’m approaching this topic from a Biblical perspective. If you don’t believe in the Bible, please stick with me until the end. I understand what it is like to have doubt, and I discuss some of my journey to faith in this post.
With that said, I don’t want the fact that this is coming from a Christian point of view to mean that you can just throw the post out the window. Some of you have a bad taste in your mouth from your experience with people in your life who claim Christ. I’m so sorry about that. I will use ideas stemming from the Bible, but I will also use arguments that don’t.
Whatever your background, I am so glad you are here. Like me, you truly want to do well by your children, and together we will support each other in this parenting journey.
Is Obey the New Four Letter Word?
Many of the concerns about teaching kids obedience stems from experiences with people in authority who have abused their powers. You may have been impacted in this way from authority as high up as the government or within your own family. The trauma and pain that you have been exposed to because of someone lording power over you has turned you off from the thought of any authority being imposed on others.
I hear your heart, and I am so incredibly sorry for your pain. Tyrannical people do awful, awful things. This is not what the Lord intended. Indeed, God gave us the free will to choose him or not. He did not create us to be puppets, dogs or robots.
And yet, He still does ask us to obey. There are often personal consequences when we don’t.
I believe that heart of free will and obedience can be reflected in our parenting. We teach our kids to obey, though they do have the free choice to do so or to go their own way. This freedom only increases as they age, and they will often experience consequences – both positive and negative – based on their choices. Let’s take a moment to look at how I believe obedience is intended to play out.
How Obedience is Intended
Obedience comes to us, first and foremost from God. That probably gives some of you a visceral reaction, so let me continue. What I believe about the God of the Bible is that He is all-knowing (Romans 11:33), all-loving (1 John 4:7-8), and wholly-good (Psalm 107:1). It may be hard to accept these things about God; I’ve struggled with the issue myself.
However, after much spiritual wrestling I’ve chosen to put my faith in the God of the Bible, and these characteristics of God are what the Word teaches about Him. If I trust these things about God, then obedience to a Creator that loves me, knows me, and is good to me is not a problem.
From there, God asks us to be an earthly example of who He is (Matthew 5:16). Theoretically, if we as parents are living out the Word of God in grace, goodness, and love then asking our children to obey is a no brainer. After all, we would be submitting to a higher authority (God) as we live out our lives with our family.
The Bible teaches that it is good to ask our kids to obey. Ephesians 6:1-3 says, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’—which is the first commandment with a promise—’so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.'”
It also admonishes the parents, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” (vs. 4). We have a high calling not to exasperate our children but to do our job well and with intention.
I know some of you are shaking your heads at this point and thinking that this may be great in theory. The argument could then be made that we are not perfect. Parents mess things up all the time.
You are absolutely right.
The truth is that I am still a sinner and find myself outside of God’s instruction more than I like. For example, I find myself gravitating toward my own selfish tendencies; I struggle with patience; I struggle with discipline. However, obedience is the ultimate goal, and in my struggle I can turn back to God in obedience and receive forgiveness. He offers us incredible grace.
If we are broken, does God say, “You are a bunch of screw-ups. I couldn’t possibly ask your kids to obey you?” No. Instead he entrusts us with these kids, all-knowing that He is. I will argue that teaching them how to obey is to their benefit and not to their detriment.
Concerns About Teaching Kids to Obey
There are a number of concerns that I have seen about teaching our kids to be obedient. Some of those in the conversation were troubled at the thought that was presented that kids shouldn’t say no to adults or that their response should be, “Yes, Mommy” or “Yes, Daddy.” I would love to address some of these concerns.
- Our Kids Will Be Put in Danger – Some argue that if we teach our kids to obey adults, we are putting them in harms way. The thought is that if we don’t teach them to say “No!” to adults they will be abused and taken advantage of. One reader said, “Well that is begging for your child to be abused.”
I want to clarify (as the author did in the post) that children should be taught how to handle situations where a they are asked to do something that puts them in harms way (physical, emotional or sexual abuse, for example). Absolutely a child should be taught to say a loud strong “NO!” and to seek safety.
Further, their first obedience comes from God and then the parents. Others in authority come next. If authority asks them to do something that opposes what God teaches, they should not do it. In this way, if we teach our kids to obey, we can keep them even safer.
When we teach them to obey us, they are going to heed our teaching to not get into a vehicle they don’t know. They will trust how you taught them to respond in situations that put them in danger. Looking both ways before they cross the street or refraining from viewing things or engaging in conversations on the internet will be in place when they learn to obey and trust your teaching.
Safety, therefore, is not obstructed, it is enforced through obedience.
- We Are Trying to Control Our Children – Some argue that those that expect obedience are control freaks. The term “control freaks” was actually mentioned by a number of readers. I would concur that some people that want obedience from their kids do sometimes fall into the trap of wanting to look good in front of others and are worried about what people think if their child is seen disobeying.
However, I believe the bigger truth I see is that parents truly want the best for their kids. With life experience and the wisdom gained over the years, we want to raise them in a way that is beneficial for them. Perhaps life experience has taken us down our own negative path, or we’ve seen the awful effects on others as they make poor choices. We want to help our children avoid those mistakes.
One prominent example is that of the pain to be found down sexual paths – addiction to pornography comes to mind as does unwanted pregnancies. There are a number of undesired results that come from our desire not to obey God’s heart for us when it comes to sexuality. When we chose to disobey we head down a path that can lead to hurt and destruction.
God wasn’t trying to take fun from you. He was trying to protect you. That is the same heart I have for my kids. I don’t want to give them an anemic life by controlling them. Rather, I want them to experience a life of abundance.
Further, I have encouraged parents not to say, “because I said so” in my post “6 Common Parenting Phrases We Need to Stop Saying.” I want my kids to have a heart of obedience, so I often appeal to their heart by giving the reasoning behind things. Parenting evolves. I have found the chart available at Axis Ministries really helps us understand that there are different phases of parenting. When you are in those early years, it’s is part of the “director stage.” That changes as your child develops. I would encourage you to listen to the podcasts or access some of the resources available as Axis Ministries – Parenting with Truth and Grace.
- “I want my children to be happy, not scared of me.” – I would hate for obedience to be associated solely with fear. Yes, fear is a driving tactic that some use. I do believe there can be healthy kind of fear. For example, I want my kids to be afraid of touching a hot stove.
With that said, I completely agree that we do not want to build a relationship based on fear. We want to be an example of love, goodness and respect. I definitely promote being a fun and engaged parent who is contributing positively to the relationship. I encourage you to praise your children, play games, help them with their homework, and attend their sports games or piano recitals. Be their biggest fans.
I would argue that kids who have learned to be obedient can actually have more fun with their family. Who wants to take a child that hasn’t learned self control through obedience to Disneyland? Do you want to take a kid out to dinner that won’t stay in their seat when they are told? Our family functions much better when I am diligently working on obedience. Everyone, including my children, is happier because we work better together. We don’t do it to invoke unhealthy fear. Imagine playing tennis with no boundary lines. What if there were no rules to follow? Imagine playing with someone who had no desire to obey the rules of the game. It would result in frustration and the fun would be robbed. I believe that reasonable house rules help create the environment for fun.
- If I teach obedience, I stifle my child’s right to self expression. – In reference to the article mentioned above one reader said, “Let’s change the title to ‘6 Ways to Control your Children and Get Them to Lose Self Confidence.'” The underlying thought is that the goal of teaching a child obedience is for them become puppets. They no long can express themselves or have self confidence. They just have to blindly move forward.
My personal testimony is that my children are being taught obedience, and they have all kinds of opinions. We value the unique way they were made. We accept that they might disagree with us. Their thoughts will be heard and weighed, but there is a respectful way to approach discussion when we disagree. The heart of obedience becomes a foundation for them.
An example would be that when your child is playing a video game. You say that it’s time to get off. They push pause and say, “OK, Mom. I’m willing to get off, but I’m just about to finish this level. Do you mind if I do that first?” The answer, if time allows, is of course yes! It’s not about establishing a dictatorship but establishing a heart that is willing to obey. That kind of respect builds into the relationship.
We establish connection with our kids by asking lots of questions. What do you think about that situation? What would you do? How would you feel if someone did that to you? Asking lots of challenging questions and gently guiding them to truth, lets them reach their own conclusions. Teaching children to learn to express themselves is not stifled if you have built into the relationship well. Children are able to express themselves in a variety of ways in our home – through conversation, through the arts, through play and through exploration.
- Teaching kids to obey doesn’t equip them to function well in the real world. – I believe that teaching kids to obey will set them up for success in the real world. As noted by leading brain expert John Medina in Brain Rules for Babies (affiliate link), the parents who end up with the most functioning kids are those that are both warm and in control.
These parents are labeled “authoritative” in the graphic above. I think when some people hear “obey” they immediately think of the parent who is highly controlling and has low warmth, a dangerous place to reside (authoritarian parenting). A parenting experience that teaches our kids obedience with warmth in the relationship equips them for life in school, the ability to be coached or taught and the opportunity to hold a job under a boss. We can not speak into the lives of our children if they don’t respect us enough to stop what they are doing, obey what we are asking and then listen to our encouragement, teaching or redirection. We are left with kids unequipped to follow the rules of society. Do we teach them how to stand up when society is wrong? Absolutely. We teach them about racism and how to stand up against it. We teach them about the plight of the poor and brainstorm ways to help and make a difference. We teach them how to peacefully and respectfully demonstrate or communicate opinions when we know we need to stand up for truth or justice. These are all things that can be taught to our children because they have learned to listen and be respectful.
I am not asking for parents to be authoritarian. Dictatorship is not going to go over well. On the other hand, when we become too permissive, not expecting our children to learn to obey the rules of our home and reasonable requests from authority (not those that put them in danger or go against a moral standard set by God), we put our kids at risk. Is obey the new four letter word? I think not.
Great words and lots for parents to think about as they make big decisions regarding how to grow healthy, happy, strong, creative, compassionate and faithful people. There was an interesting story told by Larry Burkett about a school that was built on a very busy street corner. At recess all the children huddled next to the building to play because the street scared them. Then the school built a fence around the school yard. Guess what happened? The children began to use and play on every inch of the yard. There was freedom and joy in the fence!! We believe the same is true about God and our family. There is great confidence, joy and freedom from knowing what the truth is about how we are to live our lives. Our children want to obey not out of fear or guilt but because they love us and trust what we have taught them. And part of that teaching is what to do with tricky people who try to get them to do immoral or illegal things…we role play and prepare them. But in the end, when danger is lurking, and I need them to obey quickly without question, all that teaching and trust and obedience pays off!! Bless you as you do this big important job of parenting!!
Thank you so much. You have such great wisdom and experience to share. Thank you for contributing to the conversation with such great extra information on the topic of obedience. Love you!
I know this was written a long time ago, but I just want to say that I really appreciate your thoughts. Such common sense (which can be quite uncommon sometimes).
Just a little anecdote – when my son was 2 we taught him to stop whatever he was doing when it was bedtime and start preparing for sleep. He was in the middle of a game one evening when I told him it was bed time. He dropped his toys and headed off into his bedroom. My mother who was watching stated “that’s not normal for a child to just drop everything and listen – he should be a child and finish playing”. Well… I beg to differ. My child is fun-loving and wonderful and lively… and obedient (for a toddler).
Thank you so much! I’m so sorry it has taken me so long to response. The last few months have bene crazy, and I have fallen behind. I completely appreciate your perspective and testimony. I do believe teaching obedience is possible. For some kids it will be more of a challenge, but I have found that when I am on top of it and parenting like I should, we are all happier as they learn a healthy and positive response. I agree that my kids are happier and more fun-loving when we are on top of this. 🙂
You know eventually, they will be listening to somebody else. You either discipline them or somebody else will do and will not be the same values we moms want for our children.
Yes. Hopefully we can reach their hearts young.