Obedience as a general principle

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So I recently had a week off of work and was able to spend considerably more time with my kids during the day (as opposed to the brief moments of evening contact which I generall get with them during the week).

There were several occasions when I asked them to do something and they stated that they did not seem to think that the occasion merited their instantaneous attention. i.e. I said,”Clean your room, please.” and they said,”I don’t wanna!”.

When this happens, I generally pull rank and explain that my age and experience have afforded me the luxury of an overriding vote on the matter due to a level of knowledge which they have not yet attained; that they should just go do the thing since I felt it was important to be done. In other words, I asked that they obey me.

During conversations with other parents I have often heard that teaching children to obey, without question or delay, is difficult but necessary. A good child is also an obedient child.

I have, with reservation, often agreed, in principle, with the sentiment; but I can’t help wonder if by teaching children be obedient, if we are not impairing their critical thinking processes in the long run.

I can think of several instances where disobedience was a virtue and necessary, specifically several instances of civil disobedience.

I have, after much thought, decided that I want my children to obey me not because ‘I said so’, but because of some sort of thought process. Perhaps, they will defer to my judgment due to a lack of experience on their part; maybe it’s because the obedience is really just sticking to the terms of an agreement, or something more along those lines of reason.

I want (and to a limited extent, encourage) my children to question why they are asked to do the thing, but somewhere inside that process,I hope, they rely on reason rather than strict observance of the rules of obedience.

I guess, in truth, I’d just like to avoid the use of ‘because I told you so’ completely.

…but sometimes, it’s hard.

20 thoughts on “Obedience as a general principle

  1. We had an entire Sacrament meeting on Obedience last week. There is something about the word “OBEY” that just rubs me the wrong way. I mean, we are always told that God is a parent like we are, but He isn’t a parent like US! He is a perfect, all-loving God who, for all I know, doesn’t even have the word OBEY in His vocabulary.

    I think of Him looking at us and saying to himself, “If they’d just follow my “suggestions” their lives would be so much easier.”

    I don’t see him up on his throne saying, “I told them to OBEY me and I will send them to HELL faster than I can throw them if they don’t shape up.”

    Do you see what I’m talking about? Maybe I just don’t like the word because I’m a rebel at heart.

    But I do obey.

    Weird, huh?

  2. That’s my point.
    Am I doing permanent damage to their ability to use critical thinking by disallowing discussion automatically?

    Even as very young children, when they ask why,why,why,why, perhaps we should be more permissive of the first three ‘why’s in order to properly develope the reasoning skills they will need later in life.

    …and one of my kids *is* a teen now, Kim. So it’s nothing but arguments from that one. =)

  3. This goes along the lines w/ what we’ve been taught by some GA’s in recent years – we are not encouraged to be blindly obedient to God and His Prophet.

    Instead, we are commanded to obey (yes, Lianne, obey) but then can use our moral agency to do so or not. It is up to us to investigate, study, and ponder the matter. Cleaning your room might require less meditation than other times of commanded obedience, but I think we have a responsibility to understand why we should (or shouldn’t, as the case may be) obey any given commandement.

  4. Yes, what Connor said. We are commanded to obey the Lord, and it is in His vocabulary, but we are given our agency to choose.

    I think obedience can be a very important concept to learn. If we are on a busy street and my young child runs out and is about to get hit by a truck, I want him/her to obey me when I yell “STOP” which I HAVE done, and thank GOODNESS I have been obeyed. Or my son would be dead.

    As they get older, they learn to think it out for themselves, to make decisions and learn from them. But sometimes obedience is needed. There is a reason when we are asked to do certain things and as parents, we also have an obligation to teach our children, and obedience is part of this, so that when they have the ability to make better informed choices, they will do so with judgement, knowledge and understanding (well, ok, sometimes).

    I think it is important to give explanations, when needed, though, and as you say Rick, not “because I said so”.

  5. At the same time, we shouldn’t sit and waste time pondering about every commandment. If we receive a commandment from God’s Prophet (and have previously received a testimony of this Prophet’s divine calling), then there is no need to study it out and decide whether or not we should obey.

    We should learn to trust revelatory sources and then in the future given strict obedience to what we are commanded to do. This is just like a child obeying a parent, because they inherently trust in that parent. Mary’s son didn’t need to decide whether or not to obey her when he was told to stop running into the street, because he trusted that she wouldn’t command anything that was not true and good.

  6. “Mary’s son didn’t need to decide whether or not to obey her when he was told to stop running into the street, because he trusted that she wouldn’t command anything that was not true and good.”

    …or he was so scared, he was compelled to obey. (not that I’m saying anything about your parenting style, Mary =) )

    I’d also like to comment on how I started talking about my kids, and all of a sudden we’re talking about God.

    …bit of a one-track-mind you LDS bloggers… :P

  7. lol, well let’s just say it was a very loud “STOP” and I think he was about 3 at the time. He probably heard the sheer panic in my voice.

  8. Last summer we got a dog. She’s a house dog, pretty clean, doesnt make messes. We decided that “IF” the kids kept their rooms clean, the dog could sleep in their room with them.

    Last night, it was one of my daughters turns to have the dog in her room. She took a laundry basket, put a spare pillow in the bottom, covered it with one of the dog’s small blankets, folded one of her small blankets in half and used it for a comforter. She put in a couple of her dolls that she didn’t mind getting chewed on. Also, put in the dog’s favorite tennis ball. The dog just jumped right in, snuggled up and got comfortable for a nice long sleep.

    I came in to say goodnight, and her room was a complete mess. I reminded her of the rule that she agreed to and took the dog out and let the dog sleep in another one of my children’s rooms that was much cleaner.

    My daughter cried herself to sleep.

    It will be interesting to see if her room is clean the next time it’s her turn for the dog.

  9. I think obeying is never meant to be blind. We should seek to understand, but we have to be teachable to understand. I also believe greater understanding is granted to those who CHOOSE to obey. I think one of the keys to becoming christlike is when we learn that obedience is a choice too.

    Paradoxically, it is also a key to becoming more like God. God uses and obeys natural laws and as I understand it, this obedience leads to greater light, knowledge and power.

  10. JM I would suggest in the future when your children are getting ready for bed then you do the room check at that time not after the dog is in and everyone is ready to go to sleep. Your daughter that night that was very upset is not going to remember that she made a deal with you prior and by breaking that rule lost her privilege.. She is going to remember how mean you were taking the dog out after they were already ready for bed. Not very logical but very probably

  11. Follow up:

    Last night, my daughter comes running into the living room. She wants to show me something in her bed room.

    We go upstairs and into her room, It’s spotless. Clothes put away, bed made, and a huge, beaming smile on her face!

    She got a big hug from me and the dog slept with her last night.

    Perhaps if I was a tyrant all the time, she might think of how mean I am, but I think that if you have a good relationship with your children, and you are consistent and fair in your approach to discipline, you can enforce family rules without all of the negative side affects.

  12. JM, I think it’s just part of teaching children about the value of social contracts.

    In society we do things because society as a whole has determined that we’re better off following a set of rules.

    It’s exactly the same with the family contract. Every family member has rights and responsibilities which must be followed. The sooner children understand the concept of a social contract, the better.

  13. I think a big part of getting kids to obey is to let them make decisions when they can. Chocolate or vanilla? Top or bottom bunk? Story or song at bedtime?

    It’s important that obedience doesn’t become about control. Obedience is for teaching and protecting.

    Obedience also needs to be based on trust. That’s a big help when the kids get older. If they trust that you have their best interests at heart – that you aren’t just trying to control them, but trying to help them to be happy, they are going to be more likely to obey.

    Tone of voice is also huge. Both of the kids I still have at home (though the older one is only home occasionally) are pretty good about helping out and doing what I ask, because I ASK. I have heard so many parents bark at their kids, and order them to do things, and the kids are sulky and resentful because they aren’t being treated respectfully.

    Of course, some kids, there’s just nothing you can do…

  14. Obedience is a tough one. I don’t think gaining a testimony of a prophet’s divine calling is justification for blind obedience. How do you gain a testimony of such a thing to begin with? All the followers of David Koresh, Jim Jones, Osama Bin Laden, etc. ad nauseum, all had/have testimonies of their “prophets” devine calling, and they all blindly followed/follow their “prophet”.

  15. Mary, I too have found that even a typically unruly kid will stop in their tracks if they sense enough panic in their mother’s voice. Quite interesting.

    Anyhow, Rick, I read somewhere that there is a difference between caving in to your kid and simply changing your mind for a brilliant negotiater. In other words, if my kid whines or has a tantrum I become very rigid about them doing as I say, whereas if they calmly present their reasoning as to why they should not have to obey, there is a possibility, depending on the situation, that I might change my mind. I guess that as long as the kid realizes you are not always rigid about everything, it still leaves a door open for critical thinking and questioning. I think this is OK as long as you are choosy(and as fair as possible) about the things you firmly declare as truly non-negotiable.

    Of course, this requires a lot more hassle for the parents at times, and sometimes when your tired it’s all too easy to go with the “because I said so” reasoning. Also, there are just some reasons for rules that a kid just can’t yet comprehend. I suppose it isn’t too damaging as long as we revert to this obey-because-I-say-so form of “tyranny” only once-in-a-while.

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