Thursday, March 27, 2008

Obedience and authority at home

Sadly, my heart has not been immersed in contemplation of the Deepest Things of late. Easter this year has been lived in a general aura of gladness, punctuated by early contractions and late nausea.

Therefore, following Melanie Bettenelli's good example, I will simply hijack the more "with-it" blogmoms out there.

Elizabeth Foss has a great reflection on parental authority and the obedience we demand of our children. I like the point especially that, for the mom and dad, obedience in children does not mean an easy time at home. It requires self-sacrifice and discipline. But the fruits are bountiful!

Here's an excerpt:

"We require obedience. We insist on obedience and we work day after day, every single day, to ensure obedience. When we ask a child to do something, we are polite. But we are firm. We embrace the fact that we are in authority over our children. God put us there and our children need us there. We teach them truth. We teach them that God’s laws are absolute and we require them to obey those absolute laws. For a child, the first law is "Children, obey your parents in the Lord." The only reason we need to give our children is: For this is right. God says so. We don’t shrink from our authoritative role. Rather we see it as a gift.

One of my favorite educators, Charlotte Mason, writes "Authority is not only a gift but a grace … Authority is that aspect of love which parents present to their children; parents know it is love, because to them it means continual self-denial, self-repression, self-sacrifice: children recognize it as love, because to them it means quiet rest and gaiety of heart. Perhaps the best aid to the maintenance of authority in the home is for those in authority to ask themselves daily that question which was presumptuously put to our Lord — ‘Who gave thee this authority?’"

Of course, God did. And by golly, we better be grateful good stewards of that gift. Let’s unpack the quote a little. To train our children, we must deny ourselves. We can’t administer occasional bursts of punishment and expect a good result. We must instead be incessantly watchful, patiently forming and preserving good habits. This means we are attentive and active. Those are habits to cultivate in ourselves.

To rid ourselves of bad habits, Mason suggests we replace them with virtuous ones. I know that in my house, my children misbehave a good deal when I have been on the phone or in front of the computer too much. They misbehave when routines slack off and meals are not given enough thought. They misbehave when bedtime isn’t observed or they are overprogrammed and too busy. They misbehave when I am inattentive or lazy or tired or inconsistent. Those are bad habits. I must consciously replace them with attention and diligence and action and consistent sleep.

Children recognize the Biblical living of our authority as love because it is love. Children who consistently misbehave are begging for moral guidance and a strong anchor. They are crying (or whining as the case may be) for someone to be in authority. As they grow, the real tangible relationship with the authority that is the parent flowers into full-blown relationship with God and an eager willingness to obey Him as an adult...

We don’t want self-controlled children. We want children who are controlled by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit — children who hear and answer the Lord. We need to give children choices within limits but we need to teach them how and why to choose right. We need to train their hearts and educate their minds. When they are fully informed of the consequences of their actions, we need to allow free will, just as our heavenly Father does.

In order to train the child’s will in this manner, parents must lay down their lives for them. They must be willing to spend large amounts of time engaged with them. They must believe that children are educated by their intimacies and they must ensure that the child is intimate with what is good and noble and true. And when the child needs correction, the parent must educate in the truest sense of the word. She must teach. Our children are created in the image and likeness of God. If she looks at the child, sees Christ in his eyes and disciplines accordingly, she will train her children well."

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