>First time obedience. I initially encountered this philosophy of parenting in 1998 when my husband and I were considering taking our children out of public school and homeschooling them. I joined in on a few online homeschooling support groups to research homeschooling. One very kind lady emailed me information about something she called, “first time obedience”. She told me that this would be critical in our homeschooling journey and that the very first thing I needed to do was to get this instilled in my children or my homeschooling endeavors would be in vain. She helpfully provided me with various links and book recommendations.
Since I didn’t think “obedience” was an issue for us (I don’t know what gave her the idea that it was) I glanced through the information and promptly forgot about it. But through subsequent years in the homeschooling community, I clearly see now that it is something that has become somewhat of a fad amongst Christian parents. For some reason, this topic has been quite on my mind of late as my children move from childhood into adulthood and so here, as promised, are my thoughts on the matter.
Check out this quote from 1888 from J.C. Ryle that I found on a pro-FTO website:
“Train with an eye to your children’s souls. We are made what we are by training. Our character takes the form of what mold into which our first years were cast. The path of obedience is the way in which He gives blessing. Determine to make your children obey you, though it cost you much trouble, and cost them many tears. The mark of well-trained children is that they do whatsoever their parents command them – cheerfully, willingly and at once.”
Proponents of FTO say that it is necessary for children to be trained to obey their parents without question so that they will then go on to obey God. First of all, no one, not in the history of ever, was ever parented into a right relationship with God, period. The very notion is not only unscriptural but completely unChristian. People are brought into a right relationship with God by the inner workings of the Holy Spirit, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross, and by the grace of God. People are not trained into godliness; they are brought into godliness by the Holy Spirit.
Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast”. And Titus 3:5-7 says, “…he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”
Yes, Scripture talks about obedience to God, but in the New Testament it is always as a result of love, not a precursory imperative. Obedience, to have any spiritual value, must come after a personal encounter with Jesus Christ, not before. We must be willing to obey the Holy Spirit if we want to grow spiritually closer to God, but this is a choice the believer makes, not an act of force upon us by God. Therefore, I have to ask exactly what gospel is it that FTO teaches a child? It certainly is not the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Furthermore, scripture is filled with men of God who were disobedient and yet knew and loved God. Abraham, Jonah, Elijah, and David, just to name a few. Yes, these men suffered for their disobedience, sometimes quite painfully, but their disobedience often resulted in a closer and more meaningful relationship with God. Certainly we don’t want our children to suffer, but I wonder if FTO is really about protecting our child from suffering or more about parental pride. Of course, I want people to look at my wonderful, polite and obedient children and think I’m a good parent, who doesn’t? But if I think that FTO is a manifestation of spiritual superiority of either myself or my child then I’ve got a bigger problem than child-raising.
Obedience that pleases God isn’t always instantaneous and this is a truth Jesus clearly understood. He addressed this issue in two separate parables. In the parable of the two sons (Matthew 21:29-32), Jesus points out the that son who initially disobeyed was actually the good son. And in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) we find at the end that the obedient son’s heart is just as far from the Father’s as the prodigal’s was, maybe even farther.
Years and years ago, before I had children, as part of a child development class, I read a book by Alice Miller, a Swiss psychotherapist, entitled, For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence wherein Ms. Miller attempts to answer the following question: Why did the German people, despite devout Lutheranism and a strong sense of morality, follow Adolf Hitler so ardently? Her frightening conclusion is that the root of the problem is that German culture held obedience as the primary virtue, and that it was this adherence to obedience above everything else that provided Hitler with a nation of willing and ready people who would do anything under the guise of “following orders”. She further makes her case that Hitler, far from being the devil incarnate, was quite simply a victim of brutal child abuse that came out of a culture that idolized obedience. She makes a very strong argument that explains how the German people could carry out such atrocities and, without an apparent sense of wrong-doing, offer up to the world as an explanation the defense of “I was just following orders”.
Here’s an excerpt from an article by Miller(http://www.naturalchild.org/alice_miller/adolf_hitler.html):
Without the numerous documentary films that attest to the frenzied acclaim Hitler received, no one today would believe that a madman with this ideology of contempt for human beings could generate so much enthusiasm. How was it at all possible that Hitler found such an immense number of followers? By promising his people a solution to all their problems and by offering them a scapegoat? Certainly. But that alone would not have been enough. In order to use untold numbers of people as marionettes, he had to make his promises in the style of the domineering, violent father most of his followers knew, feared, and admired.
Hitler could make Europe and the world into the battlefield of his childhood because in the Germany of that time there were millions of people who had experienced the same kind of upbringing he had. Although not necessarily conscious of the fact, they took the following
principles to be self-evident:
1. Not life but order and obedience are the highest values.
2. Only by means of violence can order be created and preserved.
3. Creativity (embodied in the child) represents a danger for the adult and must be destroyed.
4. Obeying one’s father absolutely is the highest law.
5. Disobedience and criticism are unthinkable because they are punished with beatings or the threat of death.
6. The living, vital child must be turned as early as possible into an obedient robot, a slave.
7. Undesirable feelings and real needs must therefore be suppressed as vigorously as possible.
8. Mothers must never protect their children from punishment by the father but after each incidence of torture must preach to them to honor and love their parents.
Alice Miller is not a Christian, in fact, I think she is staunchly anti-Christian in her worldview, but that doesn’t discount her research anymore than Crick and Watson’s atheistic humanism discounts their discovery of the spiral shape of DNA. The truth is that I do not want blindly obedient children. No, strike that. I don’t want my children to grow up to be blindly obedient adults. I want them to question authority. Sounds radical, huh? But I want them to stand up to wrong even if their’s is the only voice. I want them to oppose evil. I want them to be able to stop and question why they are doing things, and who and why are they obeying? Unfortunately, this means that sometimes I must tolerate them questioning me. I could be wrong. Why should my children be trained to never question me? What lifelong value does that impart that I should be willing to inflict my will against theirs to get unquestioning obedience at all times?
Finally, I believe that FTO completely misses the point of the parent/child relationship. I’ll use another relationship to illustrate. During my wedding vows, my husband and I promised to each other and God that we would be faithful to one another. I was very serious when I made this vow as I think it is critically important to the sanctity of my marriage. BUT I never wake up in the morning thinking, “Today I must be faithful.” Neither do I think to myself, “Today, my husband better be faithful.” Faithfulness, while foundational, isn’t a focus in our relationship. Our relationship is the focus of our relationship. Love. Understanding. Mutual respect. Communication. Sexual pleasure. Teamwork. Joy. Commonality. These things are the focus of our relationship with one another.
Where my children are concerned, my relationship with them is the focus. Do I want spoiled, disobedient, rude children? NO!!!!!!!!!!!!! Not anymore than I want an unfaithful husband. But just as with my husband’s faithfulness, obedience that matters to me is an outcropping of the love and respect we share for one another…and I think that’s what God wants from us too. He wants an obedience that comes because we love Him and we trust Him, not because we have to or we’re going to get it.
Yes, my children got spankings when they ran into the street. Yes, my children were disciplined when they disobeyed. But I do not believe that obedience for the sake of obedience is a worthy parenting goal.
In the future: If you don’t focus on obedience how do you get obedient children?