Monday, 7 March 2016

Why I Don't Ask My Children to Obey

We all have different goals for our children. A different vision for who we hope they will become. I believe,  however,  we can all agree on one thing: we all want our kids to listen to us. Sometimes we absolutely need them to listen to us. Quickly and without question. Usually this is for their safety or well-being. However, instant obedience is not the goal of positive parenting. In fact, many positive  parenting advocates will tell you that they don't even WANT their children to instantly obey them without question.

The reason for this idea is the fact that peaceful parenting takes a long-term view of parenting, versus an immediate response based view. Instant obedience sounds great, for children. However, do we really want to raise instantly obedient adults? Some would say no, absolutely not. In fact, if you think about it, once you give up on this idea of "obedience", disobedience is no longer an issue because obedience is never the goal. Connection, teaching, coaching, encouraging - those are the goals.

At the end of the day, obedience is simply about control. Requiring your child to instantly obey your commands is akin to controlling them. As a society, we are obsessed with being in control. As parents we need to step back and ask ourselves: do we really want to control our children, or do we want them to learn how to control themselves?

The answer should obviously be the latter.

L.R. Knost says in her book Jesus the Gentle Parent:

"Consider, though, that Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruit.” (Matthew 7:16) referring to how we will recognize his children. And what is the fruit of the Spirit? Love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Gentleness. Faithfulness. Self-control. What’s missing? Nothing. God’s Word is perfect. And yet obedience is not included as a fruit of the Spirit. It is not mentioned as a measure of love for God or evidence of a relationship with God. That certainly doesn’t mean that God doesn’t want us to listen to his wise counsel and remain within the safe boundaries he’s shared with us. What it does mean is that it’s a heart issue, not an obedience issue, and he wants our trust and thoughtful, considered cooperation, not our fear-driven, mindless obedience."

This means, we follow (or "obey") God because we love Him with our whole hearts, not because we have to, because we fear the consequences if we don't, or because "He said so". God wants us to seek Him with our whole heart (Jeremiah 29:13). In fact, outward obedience that lacks heart is not enough  (Matthew 23:23–28). In this same sense, teaching our children to be obedient doesn't help them learn the true fruit of the spirit. 

Love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Gentleness. Faithfulness. Self-control.

How do we teach these attributes to our children? The answer is by first learning to be these things ourselves. Parenting is so much more about growing ourselves than it is about growing our kids. Children are going to learn far more easily by our example than they ever would being told what is right, wrong, or otherwise. Jesus said, "you will know them by their fruit" (Matthew 7:16–20). As parents, we must SHOW our children who to be, we can't just TELL them. We must live the fruit of the spirit if we wish to teach it.

The truth is, we are all working towards these attributes. Some come more easily than others. We are all learning, growing, maturing, changing. Adults and children alike. Change takes time, and true change happens in the heart. True change requires admitting that old "tools" are not working. True change means taking the time to learn new "tools". True change means admitting we need help. So lean on God, fellow "gentle parents", and don't be afraid to add a new "tool" to your parenting "toolbox".

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