>First time obedience: Why I’m just not into that

>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?


17 thoughts on “>First time obedience: Why I’m just not into that

  1. >Chloe, thanks for taking the time to share this. I’ve always enjoyed reading you on the forums and click over here everyday now as well. And I’m loving the pictures – very encouraging.-Anne

  2. >Excellent read! Whether or not a parent expects FTO doesn’t seem to matter nearly as much as the motives for the way the parent trains their kids. And sometimes parents, even good ones, need to reevaluate what they’re doing.

  3. >YOU ROCK! (there – my maturity is showing).As for FTO, the only GOOD thing it did for me was stop me from waiting until I was angry to deal with the child ignoring my instructions. That was a huge struggle and FTO ‘fixed’ it – but it had nothing to do with my son’s salvation, it was all about dealing with me, the flawed and imperfect parent that I am.love you Chloe,Robin

  4. >Chloe, this reminds me of Romans 2:4, speaking of the kindness of Christ that leads us to repentance. I think this applies to obedience, too. I’m so on board with what you’re saying here.

  5. >Thanks for writing this, applying Scripture, and helping some of us younger parents get a grasp. My little ones are 4 and 2 with another due in October. My frustration lies in achieving obedience without multiple “go get your shoes” “come to Mommy” “no yelling in the house” “put that down” etc. It gets wearying, and I’m starting to feel worried about taking care of a new baby with the other two not following directions w/out me taking their hand and leading them to or away from where I want them. KWIM? Any ideas? I don’t want to beat my children into “breaking their will” or “total submission”, and yet I’d like to know that they will obey without me counting “1, 2, 3”.

  6. >I’ve been thinking about this post today and wanted to come back for a second comment. :)I do want first time obedience. First, because the Bible says “children obey your parents”. There are no qualifications or exceptions to that command. Second, because it makes life so much easier.That being said, I think that you are right on when you express concern about parents expecting FTO to lead children to obedience to God. That seems to me to lend itself more to legalism, which lends itself to either pride or rebellion.In our house, we expect an “ok Mommy/Daddy” followed by obedience. Why? Because the Bible says to obey. Because we all must learn to submit to those God has put in authority over us.We also allow for questioning and discussion. It has to be on our terms though. What we tell the offspring is to show us obedience first. If I tell them to do something, then I don’t want the first thing out of their mouth to be negotiation or questioning. I want to see a willingness to obey. An acceptable response at our house would be “Ok Mommy/Daddy” followed by “may I ask something first / did you know that … / etc”. If I know that they are willing to obey, then I don’t mind periodic questioning of what I tell them to do. The norm needs to be FTO. It just does. However, I also want to train them how to question authority appropriately and respectfully when warranted. I don’t want them to blindly follow anyone in authority over them, but I also don’t want them to be argumentative, defiant, or dawdling when it comes to obeying.Clear as mud?

  7. >Thanks for the comments. This was already getting so long and since it is supposed to be a blog, not a book I stopped it where I did without addressing some important things you all are bringing up.My issues aren’t really with raising up well-behaved children. I want well-behaved children, too! My reservations are with the “FTO movement” not with the idea that kids ought to do what they are asked to do when they are asked to do it. Is that clear as mud?

  8. >”My reservations are with the “FTO movement” not with the idea that kids ought to do what they are asked to do when they are asked to do it. Is that clear as mud?”Yep. :)Alaskamommy – I’m not really into parenting books, but I really like Kevin Leman’s book called Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours. It may be helpful to you.

  9. >That’s totally clear to me, now. It wasn’t completely clear to me in your original post. I’m currently raising a child who already knows everything that ever happened, and who always has a better way to accomplish any job, or a comment about any direction I give her. She *needs* a little FTO. Sometimes I see spurts of her being obedient, happy to help, and generally nice to be around. I usually get that for about 2 hours, every other day. The rest of the time, no matter what I say or do, she’s argumentative, backtalking, and not FTO-ish. I might be exaggerating a bit, but she takes plenty of my parenting energy. It is days like these that makes me long for FTO, even though I completely agree with every word in your post. I wait with bated breath for the next installment. I have a hunch what it’ll address.Dana

  10. >This is good stuff. I’m currently trying to sort out how to deal with obedience/attitude, etc. as my kids are growing up (now 10 and 13). Negotiating the parent-child relationship without resorting to dictatorship is a challenge!Blessings,Catherine

  11. >Chloe, I have never heard someone say this so well and so clearly. It sounded very familiar yet I couldn’t place it. Then I realized that it is very much something that my mom would say. Well done. Finding that balance between FTO and a completely child run home is always the challenge for me. I am sure I am not the only one.:)

  12. >I have never even heard FTO questioned…therefore I never questioned it. It is something that I did TRY to teach my children when they were younger…but since they are people/sinners and not robots, we never got that one down! It used to stress me out because I thought that maybe we were doing something wrong or that there was something wrong with my kids! Now I know that it is just because they are in a process of growth. I don’t even obey the first time, all the time! I have an 18 year old and a 14 year old…it has just sort of naturally turned into a relationship, and become less and less “military” (FTO) I guess that obedience is a lifetime lesson…for us and our kids! I appreciate you putting this into words. I just never thought of it before! But you are so right. When we demand this we are not showing much grace are we? Interesting! I’m going to have to tell my husband about this! I just love it! I read something recently that said, “We are not THE SOURCE, we are merely a RESOURCE”. God is THE SOURCE and he will do a work in our kids. We are just resources that point them to the information they need to hear…teaching them…and then we leave it there. And pray. I just loved this!

  13. That's totally clear to me, now. It wasn't completely clear to me in your original post. I'm currently raising a child who already knows everything that ever happened, and who always has a better way to accomplish any job, or a comment about any direction I give her. She *needs* a little FTO. Sometimes I see spurts of her being obedient, happy to help, and generally nice to be around. I usually get that for about 2 hours, every other day. The rest of the time, no matter what I say or do, she's argumentative, backtalking, and not FTO-ish. I might be exaggerating a bit, but she takes plenty of my parenting energy. It is days like these that makes me long for FTO, even though I completely agree with every word in your post. I wait with bated breath for the next installment. I have a hunch what it'll address.Dana

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