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October 16, 2015

Is Obedience the Goal?

“There was a time when we expected nothing of our children but obedience, as opposed to the present, when we expect everything of them but obedience.”

(Anatole Broyard, American literary critic, 1920-1990)

I hate quotes like this one. Not only is it historically inaccurate, it is remarkably immature in its all-or-nothing mentality. The reason I include it here is because it is, unfortunately, reflective of some very common sentiments of some very well-meaning parenting experts. Well-meaning, but damaging.

The sentiments here are twofold: 1) parenting used to be so much better that it is now, and 2) good parenting is ultimately about teaching obedience.

That parenting was far better in previous generations is simply not true. Such thinking is nostalgic, a historical reflection shaped more by pain in the present than accurate data. Parenting has always been difficult; ancient texts document this repeatedly. And parents have always struggled with how to balance authoritative influence and authoritarian control. History is wrought with examples of parents who demanded obedience so much that they chased their children into mindless rebellion or clueless adult decision-making.

The point is not to demand obedience. The point is to prepare kids for adulthood. Sometimes, yes, this means instructing our kids what to do because we know best. Usually, however, this means pointing out the choices our kids do and do not have, and then encouraging them to think, choose, act, and then reflect upon the results. That creates the best type of obedience: obedience to wisdom.

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