I don’t like the word “obedience.”
To some of my friends, that statement will seem perfectly healthy. To others, it will seem heretical. But there it is, either way. I don’t like the word “obedience.” It’s just never sat well with me. Maybe it’s because the word is so often used to mean “blind obedience” that the connotation seems negative to me. Or because it’s high praise for a dog, but seems patronizing for a human. Or maybe I’m just a rebel at heart. It’s sad really, that this word is unsettling to me, because the concept, in its purest form, is something I really believe in.
I realized this while reading a memoir comparing French and American parenting followed by another memoir comparing Chinese and American parenting. The authors of both books seemed to find children from the other culture generally more obedient than children from American culture. And although there are some drastic differences between French and Chinese parents, both seem to arrive at this outcome by some similar philosophy. Generally speaking, both French and Chinese parents believe that children are beings capable of rational agency and that it’s in their best interest to be treated as such. Both French and Chinese parents believe that high expectations and structured behaviors make children more mature and developed and therefore more happy. Both French and Chinese parents believe that requiring obedience of your children is what’s best for your children.
When I polished off the second book, I sat there on the couch for a good long while, thinking. There was a lot about being a Chinese “tiger mother” that seemed unsustainably exhausting and a lot about being a French mom that seemed too polished to be true. But the idea that obedience can actually be empowering? Well, that felt right. It felt like something real and familiar.
It’s a concept I was introduced to through Mormonism, specifically through my Dad’s long and frequent lectures about the paradox of “freedom and captivity” illustrated in the Book of Mormon. (By the way, I’m now profoundly grateful for those lectures.) We all seek freedom, but often true freedom comes when we agree to live by standards. Living within your means gives you financial freedom. Taking care of your body gives you physical freedom. Loving and serving others gives you emotional freedom. And sometimes, disregarding certain standards in pursuit of freedom can actually make you more captive than free.
So how will that fit in to my American-French-Chinese, moderate-Mormon-feminist, obedience-hating, obedience-loving, free-spirit-encouraging parenting style?
If I only knew.
Listening to: Nickel Creek, “Love of Mine”