Sunday, April 22, 2012

The 10 Commandments for Parents: Honor Your Father and Your Mother

The commandment to honor our parents gets a lot of attention.  Not surprisingly, most of the emphasis comes from parents, even though it isn't written to them.  I wholeheartedly believe that the Bible commands that children obey and honor their parents.  But I also believe that we as parents must be exceedingly careful with this commandment for two reasons:  it is a commandment to children, not to parents, and our perception of obedience is often skewed.

It seems obvious, but the commandment is not, "Parents, demand honor for yourselves."  Read the Gospels and look at Jesus' response to the disciples when they started trying to grasp honor and position for themselves.  Arrogantly demanding that others honor us goes entirely against the nature of Christ.

Consider this other example of Biblical family relationships.  Husbands and wives are commanded to submit to each other, but they are certainly not commanded to coerce the other into submission.  We are responsible to God for following His commands to us.  We are not responsible for exacting revenge against those who do not soothe our pride.

Another important point is that obedience is far more than compliance.  Compliance is just outwardly doing what is required.  True obedience means that they hear with their hearts, they understand, and they choose to obey.  It is a heart response of united purpose.  It cannot be forced.  If it is done out of fear, it is merely compliance, not obedience.   And nowhere are parents given the authority to judge the hearts and intents of their children.  To attempt that is to try to usurp power that belongs to God alone, and a far more serious thing than any childish mistakes our little ones might make.

There is incredible power and beauty in a family that is united in their goal to love and glorify God.  So how can we help our children to hear, to understand, to obey?

To help our children to hear us, we have to have their attention.  Yelling from across the room while our own eyes are glued to the TV or computer doesn't cut it.  If it isn't important enough to me to get off my bum and take a second to focus, why should it matter to them?  We need to go to where they are, gently touch them, make eye contact, and then state the request.  It is also very important that we think through our wording.

Once we have their full attention and have clearly stated our request, it may take a few seconds for them to process it.  That is OK.  It may also mean that we have to help them to follow our instructions.  GOYB parenting teaches our children that our words have meaning because we are there to prevent them from being ignored.

Remember, they won't be able to hear us if their emotions are shrieking so loudly that they drown us out.  Research shows that children who are scared or angry aren't physically capable of reasoning and understanding well.  Entirely different areas of the brain are involved.  So if they are upset and we truly want them to hear and understand, we have to help them to calm down, not just outwardly, but inwardly.  That may mean that we have to listen, validate and comfort before we can teach.

Transforming instruction and teaching so that a small child can truly understand it is one of the best things we can do.  It can clarify and strengthen our own sense of purpose, or it may cause us to reevaluate our instructions.  If there really isn't a good reason for it, or not one we can understand and explain ourselves, then perhaps it isn't a good instruction.

I hear a lot of  "I'm the parent, that's why!" and objections to explaining things to children on the grounds that in an emergency there won't be time for explanations.  I think the progression is backward on that, though.  If we explain so that our children fully understand, it builds trust so that eventually, the past history of the relationship, and the confidence that has developed from that, will help them to comply when it is necessary.

Although ultimately, the choice to obey is between our children and God, there is much that we can do to enable them to want to obey.  We can courteously get their attention, speak clearly when they are able to listen, and we can focus on building the trust and connection that will help them want to share our vision.  Only then will they truly be able to obey and honor us from the heart.

The rainforest path was treacherous and slippery.
But they carefully followed and obeyed because they understood and shared the vision.


ashley said...

Wow, excellent post, Dulce! (As usual ;-))

Erica @ ChildOrganics said...

Once again your are able to bring a new perspective to light. I really enjoyed your post. You give me a lot to contemplate. I enjoyed your point of calming the child externally and internally and learning to listen, validate and comfort before teaching. Excellent point!

Marcy said...

I love this series. That one sentence in there, "And nowhere are parents given the authority to judge the hearts and intents of their children," is one of the things I found most disturbing about that Shepherding a Child's Heart book: