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On obedience and the right to an opinion

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NOTE: As we welcome Lucas Isaiah to our family and adjust to life as a family of eight, I’ll share some of my favorite posts from the thousands of posts in our archives. I hope you enjoy these as much as I read back through them again!

Can you teach your children to obey your authority while still valuing their opinions as individuals?

I sure hope so.

I’ve been thinking about the extremes of parenting lately:

On one hand, you have parents who value obedience over everything else. Children must obey without question or argument, every time, without hesitation. No exceptions.

On the other, you have parents who offer their children a bazillion choices for the minutiae of their day, live to make their kids happy and give in to whining, cajoling or temper tantrums more often than not.

I want to live somewhere in the middle!

You see, I want my kids to question authority. I want them to stand up and say so when they don’t think something is right. I want them to defend themselves and their sisters.

Growing up, my mom was always willing to explain her decisions to me. She had to change her policy slightly with my strong-willed baby sister (and we’ve run into those same issues with our argumentative, precocious 6-year-old). Still, for the most part she reserved the “because I said so” line for rare occasions rather than pulling it out every day.

I want my kids to accept when I say no  to a toy purchase, but I also want them to be willing to say, “Can I save up and buy it myself?” I don’t want them to throw a fit when something we’ve planned for the day gets canceled, but I don’t want them to pretend they’re not disappointed either.

In our home, we teach our kids to obey first, and then ask questions. Sometimes immediate obedience is a matter of safety, and in order to trust our children to walk through parking lots, to play outside by themselves and to become independent, we need to know that when we say “Stop!”, they stop. There are also times when an argument has been made and the answer is still no, and they need to accept that and obey, and they need to do it respectfully and with a “happy heart”.

As they get older, I want to raise kids who question their faith and aren’t afraid to ask the tough questions…and search out the answers. I want them to be willing to disagree with me and say so. I want them to point out hypocrisy in my life and call me on it when I speak unkindly about someone else.

My current mantra is “fair does not mean equal”, and I repeat it a million times a day as first one child and then another declares something unfair. At the end of the day, though, I want my kids to be willing to say, “Mom, I know fair doesn’t mean equal, but next time could I take art classes too?”

I want to raise strong women. Women who respect the office of the president while disagreeing with his or her policies. Women who honor and respect their husbands, but who push them to be better men. Women who buck the norms and do what they believe is right, not what others tell them they should do.

I want my children to know they’re heard—even while teaching them to obey—so they’re not afraid to use their voice later on.

How do you balance these ideas of obedience and allowing your children to have their own opinions and ideas?

**originally posted in June 2011