Psychobabble Parenting #2

Wanted to share another "Christian parenting tip" of the modern sort that really chaps my hide. (Here's the first installment, if you missed it.) I have heard this particular comment at least a handful of times in the last few months, and honestly, I am astounded at the poor logic. The advice goes something like this:
"The Bible tells children to obey their parents. It doesn't tell parents to make their children obey them."

I wish I was joking. Words like "hogwash", "rotten advice", "nonsense", and "obtuse" come to mind, although I know that because I've admitted it, I'll get e-mails and nasty comments. Still, I feel the need to call a spade a spade.

Honestly, don't we all know what happens to a child who is not disciplined? I could point to a few places online that give very clear evidence of what I'm talking about, but I'll restrain myself. I believe this commentary can stand without pointing fingers, for those parents who have open ears and eyes.

Children who are not well-disciplined hit, bite, kick, yell at, and/or defy their parents. Not once, but many times, consistently. Screaming, whining, and meltdowns are normative. They don't want to take a nap, so they don't. They don't want to eat this, that, or the other, so they won't. They hit, bite, kick, and yell at other children without correction. Nothing satisfies them. Their anger knows no bounds. Their "gimmes" know no bounds. Their mothers are often bewildered and full of bitterness, both towards their children and towards anyone who dares to imply that there is a problem, which often includes their husbands. And these are just in the first few years; there are more long-term effects as well.

There are sweet children, I'm sure, that will generally go along and get along and do OK just out of a desire to please or some other motivation... but the majority of children will end up as demanding and self-interested as a character from the Lord of the Flies if left undisciplined.

And if that child-- one who defies, whines, hits, and argues with his parents-- is left to himself, why in the world would he suddenly one day wake up and think, "Oh goodness, what have I been thinking these last six years? The Bible tells me to obey my parents. I'd better shape up and start obeying God!"? The truth is, more often than not, he won't. He will continue to spiral more deeply downwards into degenerate behavior and egocentric attitudes.

If we-- as Christian adults-- struggle with self-discipline and respect for the God-given authorities over us, why would anyone think that an unregenerate child would naturally come to this obedience and respect that God intends for children to have?

And even if, by sheer grace, God draws that child to himself and works such a miracle in his young heart that he fervently wants to obey God's Word, his flesh has already had such long season of full reign over his sinful heart that it will be a difficult, uphill climb for him to learn to choose obedience and respect towards his parents.

The Bible makes it clear:
"A child left to himself brings shame to his mother."
God gives children parents in order that they might be trained, taught, and disciplined. Yes, children are to obey. But not because they suddenly arrive at some miraculous level of self-control and maturity. Rather, it is because their parents consistently, continually, over the course of their formative years, expect it and teach them to obey.

Have you come across this same supposedly Christian advice? How do you handle it when these sort of tips are dispensed? Do you confront it? Ignore it? What say you?


Anonymous said...

I would say, "You're right. The Bible does say in Ephesians 6:1 'Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.' And then it goes on a few verses later to say in Ephesians 6:4 that we are to 'bring them [our children] up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.' Do you think it is possible to bring your children up 'in the nurture and admonition of the Lord' without ever making them obey you?"

Homeschool Dawn said...

I agree with you, Jess. I think a few of the well-intentioned ones who have confronted me on this are trying to give credit to the Holy Spirit, that only He can conform my children into the obedient image of Christ. I share the verses you did in your post and simply explain that I agree the Spirit is responsible for my child's sanctification. However, the Biblical mandate to the parent is clear; discipline from parents is necessary and commanded by God. I do pray for my children when I discipline them and I follow God's leadership (as well as my husband's) in the process. God will produce the fruit of obedience, but He has given me a role in the process that I cannot excuse away.

Anonymous said...

As a children's pastor, I was once told by a woman in my church, "I don't think you should reward kids for good behavior - kids should behave because THEY WANT TO DO THE RIGHT THING."

I was thinking to myself, "Huh? Have you not heard of original sin? Kids DON'T want to do the right thing!"

Incidentally, this was a parent who never spanked her kids, never said "no" to them (more psychobabble: I have actually met parents who believe that saying the word "no" will hurt a child's self esteem!), and was completely oblivious to how out of control they were.

Needless to say, her kids never did win the quiet seat prize :o).

Terry @ Breathing Grace said...

Let me say that I agree with you. As the mother of a two year old, the idea that a child is going to "do what's right because it's right" is absurd. It's our job to teach them what's right.

Anonymous said...

This is such a challenge for me. I had my first child after 11 years of infertility, so all of my friends have at least one child older than mine. I certainly want to learn from their experience and wisdom, but when that "wisdom" is something like this, or an issue of conscience (like several people I know think I'm sinning by leaving my daughter in a church nursery for 40 minutes once a week) I'm often scoffed, or even rebuked when I disagree.

I've learned to just smile and nod and do what we think the bible tells us.

Anonymous said...

My parents were active in their church and highly regarded in their community. But they were never there to guide me. I'd have given anything to have had an older person to show me how to truly be polite, and how to navigate tricky situations, like when you're put on the spot, or when people accuse you of having done a bad thing that you didn't do.


Dawn said...

Well, as the mom of 10 kids, I hate to think what our home would be like if I counted on them to obey "just because it is what the Bible tells them to do"! Yeah, right!
Children need training. That's exactly why the Bible tells us to train them up. And training takes time; lots and lots of time.
I am currently reading The Shaping of a Christian family by Elisabeth Elliot. What a good example her parents set of discipline, order, and training, mixed with love, attention, and plain old fun! It has inspired me to do a better job with my own 8 still at home. I would highly recommend it to all moms(and dads).
Thanks for the timely word, Jess.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your whole post. But I do see a little bit of the point that you can't "make" them. You can consistently spank and give consequences every time they disobey. And you can consistently teach and train them. But ultimately, you can't force them to obey. However, I think that in general all of the teaching, training, consequences, loving, "washing of the Word", etc. is going to eventually have the effect of obedience. We should expect obedience, but in reality, we can't force it. That's just my opinion. I'm not really dogmatic about it though. :)

Catherine R. said...

Once again, Jess, thank you for telling it like it is. I think at the core of this thinking is that people aren't born sinful, which is the world's take, not the bible's.

I am not saying this as an experienced parent, just as someone who was formerly turned off to the idea of having kids because of all the insufferably obnoxious, self centered little hooligans I would see everywhere who have complete control of their mother. I really believe this is a good part of the reason people are less interested in having kids these days. People think there's no other way or that it's just a roll of the dice.

I pray I have what it takes to not let this happen to my little guy with loving yet firm correction.

hpt said...

My mother recently came to live with us - and we recently moved from the D.R. to my in-laws small town. Lots of changes! We have had to have several family talks about discipline, because she undermines us. It has been very discouraging.

My in-laws think we are way too lenient, and freely tell us. My mother says we are way too harsh, and freely tells us.

This is a daily struggle. We tell both we are doing what we believe God has commanded us to do.

Holli T.

Lana said...

Right on. This really boils down to a fundamental difference that Christians have (or should) have in the education of their children.

Some people believe we merely impart knowledge. Others [like Plato]think we have something to "lead out." But Christians understand that we cannot merely impart knowledge, but we must renew a foundational assumption which has been sold on sin since birth.

In case anyone wants cool quotes on that or something, I posted them here.

Anonymous said...

I've found this kind of advice has it's origin in whether one believes in total depravity and free will. While I cannot make my children want to obey, I must discipline them when they do not obey. However, if my children learn to obey rules apart from having the Holy Spirit, they will likely rebel once out of my house because the authority is no longer present. Law and Gospel must go hand in hand.

It is not enough to spank my children (or otherwise discipline them when they disobey); they must have self-control which is a fruit of the Spirit, not something I can teach them or they can learn apart from having the Spirit.

Unfortunately, it is a bit of a roll-of-the-dice because it is the Lord who regenerates, not our discipline. We may have a well-behaved child who is not saved, and an unruly child who is among the elect. That does not excuse us from our responsibility to train them in the way they should go, but it should humble us to realize that God is in control, not us, and we should be careful to judge other parents solely on their children's behavior.


Annette said...

People who say that are not well read in the Bible. There are plenty of instructions for parents in how to correctly rear their children, including discipline.

Children who are not trained to respect authority will not be able to respect the law or God's authority. Neglecting to train "foolish children" will bring judgement upon the parents and the child. (Much heartache to follow, if God in His mercy does not intervene.)Proper training is a parent's duty and stewardship.

Anonymous said...

I like your post ... sometimes I am frustrated when other people give me advice which are not according to God's word and try to make me guilty for my way of raising my child...

Anonymous said...


I agree with your post.

I do recall that fathers are not to exasperate our children, which suggests to me that the manner in which we correct and discipline our children should lead them in the way they should go but not "crush" them, be capricious, etc.

(I haven't yet considered why Ephesians 6:4 is directed at "Fathers" specifically, and might explore that a bit more.)

Have you experienced parents who do correct their children, but whose parents fail to be self-controlled and disciplined in their manner of correction? You may have already posted on this topic among your archives, or might find it an interesting future subject.

Blessings to you.

Josharoo said...

I'm a dad. Wanted to say, RIGHT ON! I'll be giving my wife your blog address. We have a 2 yr 9 month old boy and an 8 week old girl. Both wonderful blessings. We also hope to homeschool.

Joanna said...

Preach it, sister!

Anna said...

I haven't heard anyone say this yet, but I would probably just be too shocked to reply to them.

I do find it funny that many people we know think we are either too strict with our children or too lenient. You definitely have to be able to ignore a lot of well meant advice when you are a parent!

Leah said...

At the end of the day if we train and teach our children according to the Word of God THEY will bring Him glory and us no shame; we don't need to give answers to the text book/cultural babble, we just need to get on with it. We need to win our childrens hearts and point them to Jesus. When my husband and I discipline our children they know it's because we're instructed to do so by the Word of God and have told us they would want it no other way. They want 'all to go well with them and live a long life on earth' as the 5th commandment says.

It's hard work and heart wrenching at times but worth it when we see their lives shine for Jesus!

Laura said...

Hey "Moose" -- if I recall rightly, there's no gender-neutral word in Greek for "parents." So Paul may indeed have been addressing Fathers specifically as the leaders of their homes, but he may also have been saying, "Parents, do not..." Just like the word for "brothers" means siblings in a family, not just male siblings.

Another good one, Jess! I'm SUCH a fan of Ephesians. I get to teach it to my 8th graders this year!

Anonymous said...

You are asking the wrong question.

The question is not whether children should obey their parents, but whether forceful methods (including hitting and verbal shaming) are the best ways to ensure obedience.

Lots of children are afraid to put a foot wrong at home, but the second they're out of the house, they rebel in a big way.

You can teach children to obey using gentle methods, without hitting.

Laurie B

Carletta said...

I agree with you, Jess.

Anonymous said...

I have been pondering this all day, and I still don't think that the quote that you posted at the beginning is saying not to discipline. I am not sovereign. I cannot force my children to obey. I can train them, but I cannot make them. It's kind of like the saying, "You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make them drink." My husband's answer to that was, "Yes, you can, you can salt the oats." My answer: "That's still not making them drink, it's making them more likely to drink." Maybe it's just semantics, but I think it really affects how you parent. When I used to believe that I could make my children obey, I tended to discipline with a little more anger and frustration. When I realized that my job was not to be God and make them obey, but instead to discipline, train and correct them, I was able to get further into the heart of the matter. I also really agree with what Jennifer said about not judging a parent based soley on the behaviour of their children. I agree with your post in general, just not with the interpretation of that statement. From experience: you can spank a little girl for not swallowing the bite of egg in her mouth after 2 hours, but you still cannot make her swallow. ;)

Anonymous said...


thanks. I simply haven't done the research yet such as in an interlinear version etc. because it hadn't even occurred for me to become curious about 'til today.

The "Moose"

Tara (Momlakes) said...

WOW! I have apparently missed this particular assertion. I'm glad you warned me that I might encounter it, so I won't stand there with my mouth gaping open! Unreal.

Anonymous said...

Amen, sister.

Brinley's Momma said...

Oh, sister you have hit the nail right on the head again! Discipling is something that is almost constantly on my mind now that Brinley is mobile and understanding 'no, no.' As in, "Brinley those are Pexi's (our dog's)crunchies. You don't need her bowl baby. Come play over here with your book. Thank you."

If only you could have seen what I saw yesterday while shopping in Gymboree with Brinley--

A mother and young daughter (approximately 3) came in shortly after Brinley and I. Mom starts shopping and practically *begs* her daughter to try on an outfit. Each time, the daughter says no, that she doesn't feel like it, and that she wants a bathing suit. After a half-dozen or more pleas they leave and guess what...without trying on the outfit. The whole time, I was thinking, "Are you kidding me? Do you know how ridiculous you sound having to plea to your 3 year old. First of all, I wouldn't be asking if the child felt like doing it or not. It would be, 'Suzy, please try this outfit on for Mommy.', and I would hope to hear a "Yes, ma'am." If not, there would definately be disciplining.

Maybe my expectations are just too high since Brinley is only an infant, and I haven't walked down that path with her. I already know that others (in the future) may think I'm too strict on my child, but my thoughts are that if we don't train them up to obey us, the parents, from the start, then why would they all of a sudden have the urge when they are 18 years old to go out and obey the appropriate authoratives then?

The most ironic part of all this is after Brinley and I finished in Gymboree we went to do our grocery shopping, and for some reason what happened between the little girl and her mother kept playing in my head, and I remember thinking 'Man, I wish Jess could have seen what I saw and then have her opinion on the matter.' I never would have guessed that the next day you would be writing on the very subject. :-)

MrsRitchey said...

I agree with you. There is a verse in Proverbs..maybe...that says something about the thoughts or actions of a child being foolish. And then the one that basically says it is a silly parent who leaves a child to himself. And then we are instructed to train up our children. When we get to Heaven, we are going to have to answer to God for how we raised our children. I don't think we are going to have to answer for how they turn out, but for how we raised them. I believe it isn't just actions, but that it is a heart issue as well. Just as we are told that if we think sinful thoughts, that is the same as the sin itself, so goes it for children. If they are told to sit, and sit, but are standing on the inside, then they might as well remain standing. I also believe that we need to train them in the teachings of the Bible, and pray, pray, pray, pray, because as much as I might like to have control over my children, their heart and how they turn out, in the end God is in control, and He is really the one that can draw their hearts to Him. We can sow the seeds, water them, what have you, but he is the ultimate gardener.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with a few other commenters that mention that we ultimately we can't really "make" our children obey. Especially when they are older. The whole story of the child who finally sat down in his car seat, but said that he was still standing up inside, comes to mind.

My children are older, and as they age the need for them to be responsible for their own obedience is utmost in my mind. If they only obey "because" Mama is around, then I am merely enforcing a law, not creating a spirit intent on obedience.

I know of many a child who has gone wild at bible college, because their obedience was not internal. It was merely an enforced thing at home.

At some point I realized that I can no longer "make" my oldest child obey. She have reached an age of responsibility. And to try and do so may become detrimental to our heart strings.

That does not mean I let her run around making all her own decisions. I am committed to spending time with her so that we can grow together in Christ. I am becoming less a parent and more a mentor, and eventually I hope to be just a deep committed friend. (Although once a parent, always a parent!)

Unfortunately such a commitment to discipling children (or anyone else for that matter) takes time - lots and lots and lots of time. And too many of us are just too busy doing other things (even good church things!) I thought I was busy when I had four children five and under, but to be honest, it doesn't compare to the time and effort I must now pour into my children (now ages 13 and down).

Ultimately, my goal is not make my children obey. It is to give my children the desire and the tools so that they can obey, that they want to obey, that they see the reason to obey, and that they will ultimately, of their own accord choose to obey.

Just a few thoughts to add to the chorus,


Tracy said...

Hebrews 12:7
"Endure hardship as discipline. God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not discipined (and everyone undergoes discipline) then you are illegitimate children and not ture sons. Moreover, we have all had human father who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best but God disciplines usfor our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it."
I have this hihglighted in my bible mainly because i Had dealt with this same issue in my own heart. Discipline is hard, but we do our children a service when we train them this way. And the verse also says that discipline is painful- which makes me think it is more than simple "nudges" or "good thoughts".

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, are apples being compared to apples in the discussion?

I've noticed some comments that refer to age of the children. I also remember a radio program I listened to that made a distinction about the capabilities of children as they develop ... a particular comment they made was about the limited ability of a very young one to reason. The program did not recommend trying to reason with a child who was too young.

I wonder if some portion of difference in opinions expressed among comments may be due to the way that one's approach must change over time so that it is appropriate to the age/maturity of the child?

Anonymous said...

I TOTALLY agree. What gets me is when you know the training that you're doing with your child and someone comes to you and try to suggest that it's "okay" what the child did or some other way to excuse it?

I constantly have to restrain myself because I know what we are doing with our kid is disciplining them and the attitude that I may see in our child isn't right and it needs to be corrected because if it's not taken care of it will grow and then what?

Praise God for the post sister. Continue to be used by the Lord to stand on His word.


Anonymous said...

I agree - I have so many friends that don't think a child should be disiplined until they are 3 or 4! Their children are awful!!! Nobody wants to invite them over because their kids destroy their houses and the parents don't do anything about it! They might say a "no" here and there but that's it!!!

What about:
Proverbs 22:6 Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it.

Ephesians 6:4 And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger; but bring them up (nourish them) in the discipline (training, nurture) and instruction of the Lord.

This new "theory" is so dumb - I agree with you - it's causing a lot of problems and parents are really paying the price.

susie said...

I heard someone wonder why:
"Ephesians 6:4 is directed at "Fathers" specifically"

Well, what I have to say is that yeah, it's directed at fathers because fathers are just as much the parent as the mothers. It blows this silly "mothers-are-the-only-caregivers" theory out of the water.

Jess said...

I agree that some of this may cause confusion based on the age of your children. I'm not talking about 15 year olds, or those who are reasoning children (as MrsPages is talking about). Children, young children, must be trained and taught in obedience... it doesn't just happen.

Yes, we preach the gospel and speak and teach of grace... and yes, we love with gentleness and patience. But yes, we teach and train with diligence and sobriety... knowing that the responsibility is on US as parents to raise up our children... not just to let them raise themselves. This modern nonsense really chaps my hide.

I disagree with one part of what you said... Godly parenting is not just a roll of the dice.

God is faithful to answer our prayers. He is faithful to the thousandth generation. He finishes the work that He begins. Just like Noah, we are to have faith that He will indeed save not only us but our children.

Yes, we must cast ourselves on His mercy and beg for the regeneration of our children, knowing that it is His work. We must also pull our weight as parents and do what He commands. This isn't just a toss of a coin-- he outlines the ways to raise our children... we have to push out contradictory advice, and hold fast to Scripture, but it's not difficult to see what God requires of parents for those who want to study it and learn.

I'm asking the question that naturally follows from this lousy advice. It's interesting that in order to combat this, you don't attack the actual truth or idea itself... you're talking in circles. You bring up kids who rebel, knowing full well that I've talked plenty about kids who rebel because all they've seen is rules. That's not the point here. Just because some kids rebel because their parents focus in on rules to the detriment of relationship and love does NOT mean that we should never have rules or never expect obedience.

I'm tired of seeing Christian moms who parent in ways that are completely contrary to Scripture... who refuse to discipline, who get angry at their husbands for (the nerve!) expecting obedience from their children. These moms are often exhausted, confused, frustrated about their kids and yet also protective against any word of caution or criticism. They don't know what to do, but refuse to open their ears and eyes to the plain counsel of Scripture.

Parenting doesn't have to be a nightmare... but you do have to be courageous and willing to follow Scripture above culturally correct advice, above comments that would equate loving, consistent discipline with "hitting" and above the goal of popularity and originality. God is not only gentle with us-- but as another commenter pointed out-- real discipline from Him is painful. Yet it produces a harvest of joy and righteous living.

Thanks for all the comments so far; it's been an interesting discussion.... from all angles.

Sanders said...

I have been researching homeschooling - now that it's become obvious that I'm going to have to homeschool. :O) The more I read - the more I learn about some of the messed up educational theories out there. I have my own theory: I really think that many of these educational theories are influencing the way people parent. I don't have time to research that...but maybe someday. Maybe I've just been reading too much Voddie B. :o)

Mrs. Anna T said...

I'm quite baffled at the logic of such "advice", to tell you the truth, Jess. The Lord tells children to obey their parents - but He also instructs parents to TEACH the ways of the Lord to their children ("and you shall teach them diligently to your sons..."); to me, if I put two and two together, this means we must TEACH our children to obey us. Does that make sense?

Anonymous said...

Wow....did I need to know that I am not the only mother out there thinking "what in the world is going on!!!!" I have been so discouraged lately by all of the modern techniques of raising children. I have a friend who has been asking me for 3 months to share with her how I get my 2 1/2 year old to obey me. I am always hesitent to share "parenting advice" because, with the exception of one time, most people are just asking to criticize --- and I don't have any desire to waste my time for that. But, this friend has been persistant, so I gave in and began to ask her questions about her children and to listen to how she handles things (I have observed, but wanted her viewpoint). After about an hour I decided to share with her some wonderful, biblical training resources that have been pricelss for me. We'll see how it ends up, but the bottom line I told her is this:

We don't "make" our children obey so that our lives will be easier as mothers (although that is a nice side-affect), we require obedience from our children becuase it keeps them in the protected will of God and guides their hearts to a place where they will be able to understand and resopnd to the Gospel.

Ginger said...

This is my first comment and I would like to say thank you, Jess, so much for this wonderful ministry to Christian women all over the world. I have thoroughly enjoyed browsing through your site a little each day, gleaning wisdom, provoking my heart to thought about what Christ has to say to me about all sorts of topics. My LORD saved me from destruction in my early 30s and I am so grateful.
Speaking to the topic at hand, I do believe we as Christian women are often guilty of taking the world's view of lots of things, including how to parent our children, without ever questioning if it is right. If we choose to believe that the Bible contains everything that pertains to life and godliness then the answers become clear. Not always easy or quick but very clear.
Our pastor says often enough that rules w/out relationship equals rebellion. I think this is often true w/parents and their children. But it is also true of us (and our children as they grow) w/God. As parents of young children there is no question that we are to train and discipline them to obey because these are the rules that God has put in place for their benefit and protection. However, it must not stop there. We must also actively disciple our children, point them to a right relationship w/the Saviour and Almighty God in order for those "rules" to become actions of the heart and not empty. How often did Christ point to the hypocrisy of the Pharisees during His earthly ministry. They should've kept the commandments of God but not left the matters of the heart undone. For me, obeidance is a way to point the heart to Christ.

Thanks again for the awesome discussion.