Change is brewing in the parenting world, and I foresee a complete paradigm shift in parenting by the time you have your little ones. From where I sit poised between the two realms of thought, I see a great danger on both sides.
Those of us who raised children during the "obey right away because I said so" years often grew harsh or neglected the heart of the child. As teenagers we too often were taught what but not why. Children have been leaving the Lord in droves for the last 15 years. Many parents have none of their children remaining faithful, and most parents have lost at least 1 child to the world. This has created a great deal of fear in my generation downwards. We don't want to lose our children!
Fearful Christian parents are choosing to abandon the authority structure given in Scripture entirely.
1. They don't want to become the authority they once despised.
Those who are seeking to coach rather than parent their young children -- and this goes by many names, with "gospel parenting" taking the lead at the moment -- are replacing the principles of God's Word with worldly wisdom and then sugar coating it in Scripture. Very, very dangerous! The world tried this parenting style almost 50 years ago and it failed miserably. Parenting should transition to coaching in the late pre-teen or early teen years when the child has developed critical thinking skills and good judgement, not during the toddler years when they simply react in the flesh to any and all stimuli.
God established individuals in positions of authority since the beginning of time. Fathers/patriarchs. Judges. Prophets, Priests, and Kings. Masters (Employers). Governments. Apostles. Pastors. He knows we as individuals and society as a whole can't function without a physical authority structure in our life. Read through Ephesians, or Colossians, or Titus -- all the places where submission or obedience are commanded are "in the Lord", "as unto the Lord", etc. -- and you will see that
God accepts our submission and obedience to physical authority as obedience and submission to him, even if that authority is wrong or corrupt!
2. Their children's approval and friendship is more important to them than their child's obedience before God.
This is really the flip side of #1. You will one day enjoy a rich friendship with your children, just as I now enjoy with my Mom and Dad. It will probably be one of the key relationships in your life. Before that can happen, though, you have to faithfully parent.
3. They fear losing their child's heart and seeing their child reject God if they insist on immediate obedience every time and chasten for disobedience.
This is, quite bluntly, a lack of faith. God has spelled out clearly in His Word that parents are to provide structure, training, discipline, and chastening. That doesn't negate other commands for kindness, meekness, and gentleness, which should always accompany every parenting technique from verbal reprimands to corporal punishment, but
teaching obedience, and chastening for disobedience, are done in obedience to our higher authority, God Himself.
That is the background you need to understand the real purpose of this letter, which is our
reasons why we chose to require immediate obedience
from you and your brothers when you were young.
1. Because God ordered a human authority structure, and reinforced it with exceedingly harsh punishments time and again in Scripture to make his point abundantly clear.
Perhaps the clearest example of how God intends human authority to function under his Lordship is the story of Moses and the children of Israel. I don't believe there's a better picture of how to parent toddlers than Moses herding the newly formed nation of Israel across the wilderness.
Note too that when He or Aaron chose to disobey God, God punished them just as severely. From His near death from failing to circumcise his son to Miriam's leprosy for her insubordination, God required careful obedience from the authority figures just as much as those under authority.
You can read a similar saga in the book of Acts.
2. Because they cannot understand either mercy or the reason for Christ's substitutionary death on the cross without a first hand knowledge of righteousness and justice.
If your child doesn't understand that every incident of disobedience, disrespect, and dishonesty deserves punishment, how can they possibly apprehend the need of a Savior or even understand when you humanly show them mercy? They don't possess mature reasoning skills at 2 or 3. This is not something you can teach through words.
Returning to the "toddler" nation of Israel, mercy is frequently shown much later when the nation is well established and they understand God's righteousness and judgement. I also want to take time to point out, however, God never stopped the manna, withheld water, allowed their clothes and shoes to fall apart, or allowed them to be slaughtered by another, stronger nation. His lovingkindness remained constant even during times of harsh punishment.
3. We wanted you to have a fear (apprehending both the power and presence of) authority.
Your child will be under human authority their entire lives. They will usually respond to that authority in the way you taught them to respond to you. It is far better for children to learn respect, honor, and obedience to authority in the loving bubble of your home than in the unemployment office or the cold of a jail cell. Every single problem your Dad had to deal with as a pastor in the church during the twelve years he pastored ultimately traced back to insubordination or rebellion in one or more relationships.
We chose to lovingly enforce immediate obedience every time out of obedience to God, and a desire to prepare you for an intimate relationship with Him and stable relationships with others.
We thoroughly enjoy our time together as a family. Our family relationships are stable and rewarding because of the time we've invested to teach you how to respond to God, us as your authority, and each other. You don't fight us or whine, you make a biblical appeal when you wish to change an instruction or family policy. If we choose not to change after consideration, you submit to that decision cheerfully. When you have problems with each other, you know how to discuss them, or you bring the difficulty to one of us for resolution. We don't play mind games, go behind each others' backs, or play one person against another, Junior High style. You couldn't even comprehend that level of communication when it was leveled against our family recently.
We know there are some dangerous and rocky times ahead of us during your late teens and early twenties, and I'll probably wait to write much more about parenting until we've weathered those storms. God is faithful to teach us as much (or more!) from our mistakes as He does our success. Because this topic recently came up on an influential website, and is becoming more prevalent in print, I wanted to deal with it while I was already thinking about it.