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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

In Which Children Are People Too

There is a parenting paradigm I'd like to talk about. It begins with the idea of "parental authority", which begins with the idea that there is a hierarchical authority structure in life that everyone must fit into and children are at the bottom. I'm the parent, you're the child. I'm the boss, you have to obey. Everything in this paradigm is based on the idea that some of us have positions of authority and submission to authority is good, right, orderly, and "God's plan" for all of us.

But what if it isn't? What if it's just a model of how we've set up our relationships, a pattern to follow, that may or may not work out the best for everyone involved? What if there's a better model to follow? I mean, in a hierarchical model, with people on top and people on the bottom, it seems that the ones on the bottom get the short end of the stick. And all too often, when applied to parenting in an authoritarian manner, children are the ones that have the most to lose.

It is often taught in conservative circles that parents have to right to require what they want of their children, and children must obey no matter what. It is even encouraged to set up arbitrary "training sessions" to "test" a child's submission and obedience to authority, for no other reason then to condition them to follow your every command. Children are set up, and if they do well, they pass, but if they succumb to temptation, they get thwacked and punished, thus enforcing the idea that Mom and Dad are the boss and need no other reason to be obeyed other than their perceived authority over the child. If I say jump, I don't owe you an explanation nor do I need a reason because *I'm the Mom* , you are the child, I have the power over you, you must learn to submit. And all of this is justified by invoking "God's will for your life".

In this paradigm or parenting model, children are expected to obey, to suppress their emotions, to never voice their own opinion because all that matters is their obedience to authority. They have no autonomy, their feelings don't matter, they have no freedom to choose for themselves, and they are at the wim of their parents, their authorities.

But what if children are people too?

What if parenting is less about obedience and more about instilling The Golden Rule?

What if good parenting is about producing adults that know how to make wise choices and respect other people?

What if, instead of seeking ways to prove "I'm the Boss and you will obey me", I'm instead seeking out ways to teach them how to choose for themselves? To let them learn how to express themselves in a healthy manner? Teaching them that their choices have consequences in life? What if I include them in decisions that will affect them? Teach them their thoughts and feelings matter to me?

What if I even *gasp!* teach them to question authority? To think for themselves? Even if that means questioning me? 

I guess the question we need to ask ourselves is this: What is my parenting goal? 

Because, for a long time, my goal was incongruent with my parenting methods. My parenting philosophy was contrary to my goals for my children. I just didn't realize it. I was so focused on the here and now, I forgot to see the big picture...the one where my kids end up as adults and are a product of my parenting.

 "Parental authority", the idea that we are the boss and they must learn to obey without question purely because of our position over them, goes against everything I believe in and desire to instill in my kids. I don't want to raise little robots! I want to produce smart, thinking people, that can recognize bullshit from a mile away. That stand up to evil and fight for justice, even against "authorities". Teaching a child to obey "authority" without question is dangerous. Because "authorities" are human and can be evil. Matter of fact, power corrupts and it seems to me that those who are in authority over other people are often the very ones from whom we must protect our children. I *want* my kids to question everything and everyone. What better place to model and teach this than with me, where they are safe and loved and their hearts treasured?

So I give them options. I do what I can to let them make their own choices about their lives. There are going to be times when I have to set boundaries that they can't have a say in and don't understand because they are young and immature in many ways. So how much more should I be celebrating the times when they CAN have a say? Seeking them out, even. And those times are much more numerous than I previously thought. For instance, I don't believe that it is my choice to needlessly and permanently alter my sons' (or daughters') bodies by cosmetic circumcision. It's their body, their choice; not mine. I don't believe I should be the only one to choose what church we go to and not give heavy consideration to my children's thoughts and desires; they are part of this family too, after all, and the decision affects them. It's my job to make sure my kids are dressed appropriately for the occasion and the weather, but the details are always up to them. I think that by letting my children know that they have a voice that will be heard, that I value their input, that I respect their autonomy, that I celebrate their individuality, that they won't be ignored or brushed off or their ideas considered less important than mine, I will be forming a relationship of mutual trust and respect that will last a lifetime. It helps them to listen better on those times when I need to put my foot down if those times are few and far between. I need to model respect if I want respectful children. I need to honor their personhood and their autonomy.

I think the biggest step is to be able to see our children as people. It's a simple as that. "A person's a person, no matter how small." Children aren't our possessions. They aren't property to do what we want with. They're people. Little, unfinished people, but still people, with all the thoughts and feelings and desires and conflicts that you and I have.

I have nothing to prove to my children. I don't need to "show them who's boss". That's not the kind of relationship I desire with them. I desire for them to be wise, independent, compassionate, passionate, lovers of justice and mercy, capable, respectful, and strong. If I want them to value others, I must value them. If I want them to be kind to others, I must be kind to them. If I desire respect, I must show respect. I do not see respect as something I am entitled to because "I'm the mom", but something I've earned because I have shown respect to my children. This seems very simple to me.  As simple as "do unto others as you want others to do unto you".

See your children as people, change the way you look at them and change the way you see yourself in relation to them, and I guarantee you will change the way you parent them. Look at the end goal and think about whether your parenting philosophy is going to get you there or if it needs some major overhauling.


  1. So proud to be your online acquaintance, Darcy. Another home run.

    1. Hey there! I miss seeing all my online friends here. :) But, man, life is nuts these days. :P I doubt it'll get better any time soon....

  2. As a teacher, I see first-hand the effects of treating young people with respect. They will only respond to a teacher that they really know cares for them. It has got to be about a relationship, not a hierarchical pecking order.
    I think that most of modern-day Christianity has totally missed Jesus' point when he said that we are not supposed to be like the gentiles, who lord it over each other, but we are rather to be like servants.

  3. Reminds me of my grandmother who yelled at me and treated me awful then said I should take it because she's older than me. My dad finally stood up for me and said, "you are both adults."

  4. Great post...as usual, Darcy! Well put...it's so sad to me when I teach little children whose parents try to tell me to treat them with an iron fist, like they do at home. It goes so against my grain, and I can't bring myself to do that.

  5. What's interesting to me is comparing and contrasting it with the discussions I sometimes see in blogs on the "other end of the spectrum"...the "progressive democratic child-centered" folks...where someone will post the suggestion that --gasp-- sometimes discipline and limit setting by parents can be a good thing!

  6. Loved this post!! Keep writing. :)

  7. Questioning authority can be dangerous too. Do you ever wonder why the world is in the state it is in today? Why employees don't respect their employers or don't like authority over them? It starts at home. If children aren't taught to respect authority and obey as children, how do you think that will work out in the work place? It doesn't.
    Authority has its place in the family and in the workplace and in the world. Respect does too. I, know for a fact, of some who disrespected their parents and did not obey their parents *at a young age* and now they are in trouble because they don't respect authority (or the law!).
    If it doesn't go against the Bible, children should respect and obey their parents.
    My parents have never asked me to sin or do anything against the Bible. Therefore when I obey them, I am obeying God. He created the order after all: God, Man, Woman.. children
    "But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God."


    If you can come up with Biblical proof that children don't have to obey and respect their parents, please share :)
    Likewise, I believe that all parents should isten to their children and discuss all matters with them and show them they are valuable and important and their voices do matter. But as far as the "final say" goes, parents have the final authority; esp. if the kids are under 18. Parents are generally wiser and more mature than their kids and I appreciate the fact that my parents had the final say in a lot of things and saved me a TON of heartache along the way.

    1. "If you can come up with Biblical proof that children don't have to obey and respect their parents, please share :)"

      Why would I care to do that? I never said anything of the sort.

    2. Really, the world is in the sorry state it's in because of questioning authority? How about, it's in the sorry state it's in because of sin! And the sorrier the state, the more likely it's come about because of abuse of power...by an authority.

      The USSR is arguably the sorriest state the world has ever seen, and it was that way because of all-encompassing authority abused by exceptionally vile sinners, who got away with so much more because, yep, you guessed it, there was no questioning allowed.

      It amazes me how much fundamentalism preached against authoritarian communism, yet has turned right around and adopted the same procedures in dealing with those it requires to be powerless: manipulation, lies, erasing history, unwritten rules, disrespect, accusations of treason, bizarre punishment, enforced powerlessness, even pulling people out of bed in the middle of a night to "discuss" a problem that could easily wait until morning.

      Think I'm reading too much into things? I'm watching these tactics brutalize my fiancee right now. Live with it for a while and your opinion will change.

  8. Darcy, I hadn't stopped by in a while because I thought you had stopped writing. But I'm SO glad I did, because I needed precisely this post today. Thank you!

    1. haven't stopped! I've just been insanely busy! Glad you stopped by. :) I write when I can or when something screams to be written about. ;)

  9. True, it's because of sin. Authority can be corrupt and often is. I'm talking about the state of mind that most children have today. Respect is gone. Honor is gone. Children are often lazy and don't give a care. It all starts from a breakdown in the home and then escalates into various avenues in the world around us. If kids don't respect their authority at home, they won't at the job site or work either.
    But I do want to clarify that I believe children SHOULD obey their parents; no matter what AS LONG AS they are not asking their children to sin against God. (ought to obey God rather than man!). God gave those children to the parents and it's the parents job to raise them up to honor and glorify the Lord. Therefore the children should obey, honor, respect and listen to their parents. Of course, I'm talking about Christian parents here but I also believe it is fully possible to honor even non-Christian parents through most life circumstances.

    Children who are allowed to get their own way, esp. time after time again, are often the ones that go on to be rather disrespectful in the "real world" and they try to get away with as much as they can for as long as they can. And then when they get in trouble, they are mad at the person who is "punishing" them instead of being remorseful for their sins, wrongdoings etc...
    Children need a good strong family structure: The father should be the head of the household, the mother is there to "back up" Dad and be involved in the discipline as well. Children need discipline, love and understanding and most of all, they need God! :)

    1. Wow, so glad I don't live in your world. I like mine much better. The one where my kids know their parents value their input and autonomy, where I and my husband are equal partners, and where mutual respect and honor starts with the parents and is modeled for the children to emulate. You can keep your paradigm, but don't be surprised when your kids grow up and write blogs like mine.

    2. My kids are grown up and it worked :) Most kids used to be brought up in the way that I am talking about. They were brought up by the Word of God and the rod. And guess what? They turned out marvelous! I am so proud of all of them! It's called old-fashioned these days but it used to be the norm.

    3. Good for you. But I prefer to make my decisions based on the leading of God and proven science, not anecdotal evidence. I also have no desire to lead a life you described. Glad you're happy with it, but I wouldn't be.

  10. Reading this article was like you describing my childhood to me! Yikes. If I had a penny for each time my dad said he didn't have to give me a reason for yada yada ya and that I just needed to "obey" because he was "the father" I WOULD BE AN EFFIN MILLIONAIRE! And that wasn't just as a child....that carried on until the day I left home!!
    Pardon me while I go puke.
    Parents like mine need to sit back and realize that their children are not their property! We are each our own individual with quirks and oddities and that's what makes this world beautiful. Parents are there to protect and guide not to push and force a child to be someone they are not. You cannot punish a child into respecting and honoring you. You can try. And you may think for a time that it's working but all you're doing is getting lip service.
    Respect your child and they will respect you back!
    Great article! Thank you!

  11. I really don't understand why parents are so threatened by their children's autonomy. What in the world are they so afraid of? I will consider myself a success if my children are adults who DON'T need me to make their life work. I can't imagine being threatened by my kids' independence. I honestly don't understand it.