Saturday, December 25, 2010

Authority, Submission, Control and Discipline

Do you ever have ideas tickle at the edges of your mind, just barely out of reach?  I have a lot of those right now, and it is frustrating.  Mamapoekie's recent post on discipline brought some things to the surface, but it is an issue I am still working through, so this post may be "in progress" for quite some time.

Much of my dislike for punitive parenting boils down to its dehumanization of children. Babies and children are assigned a status similar to pets, or even lower. Reading authors like the Pearls, Dobson and Ezzo gives the idea that children are little more than unruly toys for the parent, meant to provide some measure of satisfaction, but who should be ruthlessly quelled if they ever become inconvenient or show signs of thinking for themselves. First time obedience, with a happy heart, (lest the parent feel embarrassment or distress at coercing an obviously unhappy child) becomes the goal. The child's actual feelings are irrelevant as long as the facade is preserved.

Many of the proponents of punitive parenting base it on Scriptural passages. They justify it by claiming a parent's position of authority over the child. It is no surprise that many of those who follow this also believe strongly in wife-only submission. Pretty much the only difference between the status of the child and the status of the wife is that the wife may outrank a pet, at least barely.

In both cases, followers are quick to assert that it doesn't actually play out like that, because the benevolent dictator (the husband/father) is a nice guy who truly cares about his inferior subjects. Therefore, his rulership will always be benign.

I don't believe that the presence or absence of male genitalia automatically confers superiority or better decision-making ability. And although I have heard that acknowledged by Gothard and some other teachers of wifely submission, they generally follow it up with some nonsense about the submissive wife gaining some obscure spiritual reward by following her husband into a wrong decision. Quite frankly, I find that absurd.

Some leave a rather empty caveat that she is not required to sin, but defining sin can be rather difficult. Does mere selfishness and pride on his part constitute sin? Apparently not, according to the teachings. Certainly, there is no recourse if he is not living up to his end of the bargain, just as there is no recourse for children whose parents use "authority" as the basis for justifying their own desire for convenience and ability to control others.

I have actually seen some of these marital relationships that were, in my opinion, healthy. However, in reality, they practiced mutual submission. Regardless of whatever they called it, when walking it out, they made decisions as a team. The wife's opinion, feelings and thoughts were valued, and not just as a mirror of her husband's. Decisions were made by whichever was most informed or best suited (by inclination, experience and talent, not genitalia). The goal was true unity and harmony, not compliance.

I can see many parallels in my relationship with my children. My goal is not obedience. My goal is harmony and helping each of us reach our potential. I see myself as a facilitator for them, equipping them with any tools that they might need as they grow. There are times when I am better informed or equipped to make certain decisions (like whether or not they can play in the street and other safety and boundary issues). There are also times when they teach and lead me. Always, their thoughts and feelings are just as worthy of respect as mine or any other human beings.

I can feel the outrage at this view of discipline by many of my religious brothers and sisters. But I ask you to consider something. What does God's authority look like in your life? Is it about coercion? Or is your obedience something that you freely give? Is it really a choice that you have? Does God allow you to disagree with Him, even going your own way if you prefer? How does He deal with talking back? My own experience is that because of my love and trust, I choose to follow His direction.

I also find that many times He encourages me to discover the giftings and skills I have, and to develop new ones by giving me freedom to pursue my own choices. There are many areas where God does not always (or even usually) give me specific directions, not because He doesn't love me or care, but because it is part of my growth process. He has guidance in place for my protection and for the protection of others. Always, He is more concerned with my heart than with any outward professions of compliance.

The obvious difference is that I am not God. My knowledge and goodness are limited. For me, this is all the more reason that I should guard myself from using "authority" as an excuse to control my children. Sure, there are times when it may be necessary. But far more often, my place is washing their feet, listening and loving and trusting. Jesus had strong words about those who would vie for status over others. Following His example of grace and freedom means encouraging them to exercise their own autonomy as much as possible within boundaries of safety for themselves and others. If I truly believe that being the greater (in authority) means being a servant, then my position looks very different from many models. My authority means that I have the responsibility for giving my children what they need to reach their full potential, and to respect and value where they are right now.


Hermana Linda said...

Amen! I have quite the backlog so I'll hold off on linking until I catch up which should give you a chance to flesh it out. ;-)

Heather said...

Just discovered your blog, and I am loving it. I, like you, grew up in a strongly Bill-Gothard-influenced home, yet not subject to the extremes of abuse that some in IBLP were subjected to. The twistedness in my thinking was much more subtle, yet truly damaging in so many areas of my life, and probably harder to root out and sort through because of its very subtlety. I love that you're exposing some of that.