Why I don’t teach my children unquestioning obedience, Part 1 of 2

As a teenager, I worked in an upscale nursing home. The facilities were modern, the work-load reasonable, and the patient care was excellent. I felt lucky to work in such a clean and well-run place. Yet my time there was marked by a very dark spot.

One of my residents was a sweet elderly lady with a terminal illness. Her middle-aged son came to spend the last few weeks of her life by her side. As I cared for the woman, her son started making passes at me.

“You’re so cute,” he said, “you look like you’re about ten years old!”

I blushed and kept adjusting my patient’s pillow.

“Want to have lunch with me at the cafeteria?” he asked, watching me carefully as I took care of his mom.

“I brought my own lunch, thank you,” I replied respectfully, scribbling down the notes I needed to save to put in the computer chart later.

Leaving the room, I sighed with relief, and went on to the next patient.

The silky-voiced harassing went on for days. Asking me out to lunch, saying I was cute, ogling me from head to toe, profusely complimenting me on the excellent care I was giving his mom. The flirting got to the point that I dreaded going to work. One day the harassing got to me so badly that I locked myself in the staff bathroom, shaking with fear and praying for God to take that man away.

But this is the strange part. I never consciously thought, “This man is a creep. I don’t have to put up with the way he is treating me. I should tell someone what is going on!”

I never once thought of telling someone, even though my spirit was screaming “You are not safe!” My sense of duty to work hard without complaining was so strong that I could not hear anything else.

Raised in a culture that highly valued obedience without question, I felt a huge responsibility to be kind, to accommodate, to listen to others, and most of all to not hurt anyone’s feelings.

Those are wonderful traits to have, but in this case they trumped the fact that this man made me feel very unsafe. I never thought I had a right to stand up and say I would not tolerate that kind of treatment.

That happened years ago, but I still struggle to assert myself when I should. Living in a healthy tension between rights and responsibilities in a Christian’s life is hard for me, even though I have a good husband who gently pushes me toward more independence. How does a person undo what has been wrong for so long? And how do I learn to parent in a way that teaches solid values while enabling my children to resist abuse?

I don’t blame anyone for the way I grew up. I believe the people in my life did the best they knew, just as I do now, and I love them dearly.

But I can’t deny that many times I was unprotected, and I’m still dealing with the aftereffects. The next post describes a shift in my thinking regarding parenting, and a caution about certain child-training methods.

7 thoughts on “Why I don’t teach my children unquestioning obedience, Part 1 of 2

  1. Barbara Nation

    Thank you for being vulnerable and sharing this. Sadly I think many will identify. I was not raised in the culture you were so can’t identify from that perspective but as a Christian Canadian woman that’s all it takes to know you must be kind and polite…… learning the same lessons up here. Desperately wanting my daughters and granddaughters to learn to listen to that voice inside them and learn to be firm about their personal boundaries and know that doesn’t make them any less a lady…. but in fact makes them one to be admired and respected. Looking forward to part 2 of this post.


  2. Joel

    Completely identify, in theory. In practice, it feels like my parenting instincts tend way toward fear/coercion, shame, and anger as tools in a dictatorial mode–and it’s a constant act of will and my “better self” to resist those instincts. Becky Bailey offered what I needed, and still need: the idea of “discipline” as the thing I’m trying to form in myself, exemplify, and help my kids to form. William Webb was also helpful in developing a counter-balance to theologies of coercive parenting.

    Um…that’s a long way around to saying “yes, preach it!” 😀


    1. I completely understand. Modeling the behavior we want to see and taking the time to connect to our kids is so much harder than reacting with control. Many times I don’t get it right, but I believe humility and repeated attempts to love as Christ loves will not go unnoticed by our kids!


  3. Pingback: Why I don’t teach my children unquestioning obedience, Part 2 of 2 – arabah rejoice

  4. Patricia

    I tend to agree a lot with the things you say in this part and part 2. Having said that, my parents were pretty strong on the “unquestioning obedience,” but either due to their teaching, modeling, or maybe my personality, I did not extend the unquestioning obedience to others. I think I was in my early teens when I slapped a wet washcloth across the face of a man about my dad’s age who slid in a booth beside me at my dad’s diner and told me he would move when I kissed him. (And no, he did NOT get any kisses either.)

    I have wondered about why, when I was raised to be so submitted to authority, and obedient to parents and other authorities, why it was that I dared be so assertive. The truth is, I don’t know. But while it sure is easier in some ways to parent the children whose goal is to please those around them, I feel the weight of also teaching them that it is ok NOT to please everyone.

    I keep reminding myself that the real goal of parenting is to raise responsible adults who can make good decisions without needing to consult their parents about every thing. That means obedience is NOT the ultimate goal. Obedience is still A goal, because we all have people we need to obey. But we do need to make good decisions about who we obey, and when, and sometimes even why.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing and articulating why you chose to parent the way you do.


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