Do adult children have to obey their parents?

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Do adult children have to obey their parents?

May 18, 2009 |John Thomas
Question

I began to write this when the second blog post on your column "Not Telling Dad" hadn't been written yet; I commented at #23 in the original one as anonymous, which I don't normally do. But I sent the article to a few people and thus didn't want my name there this time.

First, thank you for your comment in defense of the dad: Both sides need to be represented, and there is certainly, both in all those comments, and in popular culture today, far too much "be yourself" and anti-family-unity values put forth.

The second blog post has produced a more balanced view, and was a good idea. I have wondered whether there were any readers of the lifestyle that the writer had written who also read Boundless. I am a 23-year-old daughter, at home, without having gone away to college, without a job outside the home, oldest in a large family, etc. ... So thank you also for spreading Boundless' wings a bit in bringing in commentary on this topic or area that is not entirely the norm.

Have you read this article, by No Greater Joy, called "Cloistered Homeschool Syndrome"? This email is to ask your opinion or perspective on those cases in which the dad is somewhat as bad as many imagined in the other girl's situation, or as exemplified in a few of the stories in that article.

My dad, for example, thinks that it is the husband's responsibility to "make" the wife submit to him, and that the "children obey your parents" is always applicable, since one is always a child. He believes that a child (male and female) is to be at home and living under the direct authority of the father (and thus all the house rules and doctrinal beliefs) until marriage, citing Genesis 2:24 as the proof that it is at marriage that a child leaves the home and begins his own (and one of the qualifications to marry me is to study Koine Greek).

I have struggled for years to live submissively both outwardly and in my heart (thinking similar to the other girl did that she is the oldest and doesn't want to rebel and set a bad example, although my younger brother was "kicked out" about 6 months ago because he refused to give up swing dancing). But it takes two to work on a relationship, to build mutual trust: My dad just mocks this article, and the ones following it.

Most people who know my dad have difficulty dealing with him on a long-term basis, so we have many short relationships with families in the area. My dad's parents are very involved in our lives and have tried many times to reason and discuss and offer solutions, most of the time being ignored, it seems. We were a part of a mission agency (and spent 18 years overseas) but were brought back because of marriage issues between my parents, and since then have been dropped by them and have no contact or accountability with them anymore.

We do not go to local church, but there is one family with whom my family has a weekly "house church" and he and my dad have developed a relationship in the past year. That is truly the first time in my life that I can remember knowing that my dad had some accountability. I have a few people with whom I have been able to share my thoughts and who know a bit about my family who have given me some advice, but this is all without my parents knowing.

I don't think talking more will help; I may have said too much. ... I so desire to honor my dad and to respect him. We disagree on the definition of honor, of course, his being to obey his every word, and mine being to appreciate and commend and love and speak well of and treasure advice from him. Thus I dislike digging out dirt and having to discuss this, but am unable to explain a whole situation without some of that.

I am writing for two reasons: First, if you have ideas or responses to this, I would be privileged to be able to hear them. I do want to understand this from my dad's position, and try to see where I have been misreading something as control that truly could be protection in his mind (something he says a lot, but which is hard to believe with the way he acts). Also, I have considered many times getting in touch with Focus' counseling department, but have hesitated because I presume that they will have reactions rather similar to what most people thought in your first blog post.

I come from a different mindset, one in which I don't think to be autonomous, in which I've chosen to stay a part of my family, to not have a career of my own, to desire to be a wife and mother even under the severely-limited conditions that I live under. And I certainly do not need any more advice or words from people who think that it is just weird and abnormal to be 23 and choosing to live with your family and serve with them — the culture and secular world and so much of the "Christian" world give enough of that.

So I wondered if you know whether Focus' counselors come from a perspective that would be open to listening to both sides and not just telling me to leave home and make something of myself.

Answer

Like the other writer you referenced, your desire to respond to your dad "in the Spirit," rather than in a knee-jerk reaction of the flesh is so critical, and so commendable. I'm proud of you (and our other writer in a somewhat similar situation) for seeking the way of peace. You both show maturity beyond your years. Please see my advice to her, especially about praying for breakthrough.

First, I know you know this, but for the benefit of our other readers, what you are experiencing has little to do with homeschooling. Parents that practice as your dad is practicing with regard to gender and familial roles might tend to also homeschool, but the homeschooling hasn't produced the view, no more than going to a restaurant causes you to hunger. To conclude that a restaurant makes people hungry because everyone you see in there is eating is faulty reasoning.

My wife and I homeschool (after naively swearing we never would). I've represented homeschooling as a lobbyist at the state legislature for years. I've networked with homeschoolers for the past two decades. The homeschool community is like any other; it reflects a wide spectrum of beliefs, most within some type of biblical context, but that too is changing. But trust me, I've seen a lot more over-controlling "patriarchy" outside homeschooling than inside.

Your dad has problems and blind spots. We all do. But rather than try to analyze your dad, let me just tell you what I believe generally about parenting. I view being a parent the same as being an archer who makes his own arrows. He doesn't fashion them to keep them in the quiver. He's an archer, not a collector of arrows. The whole point of even going out and searching for just the right piece of wood to begin with, is to shoot it. Children are referred to as arrows in Scripture because, at least in my opinion, the very idea of having children is ultimately to help fill every dark corner of the earth with Christ-worshippers.

But here's where we parents trip. We think these arrows belong to us. They don't. These arrows are lent to us. We're really not the archers after all. God is. We're partnering with Him in the sharpening and shooting, but we're junior partners. He gets the final say, not us.

I also believe that parenting must be grace-based. Gobs and gobs of grace. Yes, I believe a dad should protect his daughter, be a refuge for her, sharpen her as iron sharpens iron, be involved in her courtship, but the grip should always be loosening. We start out with lots and lots and lots of rules, and as the child grows in grace, we turn her over to lots and lots of grace.

The role of a parent is very much like the role of the law described in Galatians 3:24-26:

So then, the law was our guardian (literally, boyleader or schoolmaster, whose job it was to take children to school) until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.

We partner with God to lead our children to freedom in Christ. As they mature in His grace, we slowly pull back the bow and release them, not to random chance, but into the hand of God. Over the years we slowly shift from instructor to adviser to cheerleader and co-laborer in Christ; from a tight grip, to an open hand.

Too loose, too soon, and we fumble. Too tight, too long, and we fumble. Timing is everything.

As owner of the house you live in and buyer of the food you eat, your dad gets to make the rules of the house, but there's more to it than that. That's why as soon as the Bible instructs children to "obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord," it says, "Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged" (Colossians 3:20-21). Verse 21 is every bit as God-breathed as verse 20.

So if we take your situation and fill it with grace, you have a sharp, godly daughter choosing to live at home (which I think is a great thing), serving her family with joy, asking her parents for advice when she needs it, but doing a whole lot of flying on her own by now, while her parents open their hands and bite their fingernails, trusting their daughter to a better Father, the same One they trust. Our letting go is a huge step of faith and a sign that we do indeed trust Him. Our holding on could be a sign that we don't.

I imagine that once in a while an archer has spent so much time in making the arrow and invested so much of himself into it, that the thought of letting it go is difficult, especially if it is his first one to shoot. I expect I'll feel exactly that way when my now 7-year-old son is pulled back in my bow. The same goes for my 5-year-old and 1-year-old daughters.

Your dad has already had one arrow get thrown out of the quiver rather than launched, and I'm afraid it has much to do with his tight grip. I don't want that to happen with you, and I know you don't either. Let's pray that God will bring His extravagant, freeing grace into this situation.

Meanwhile, I think it's a great idea for you to call our counseling department for further help. God is still in this and was already working on the solution before you ever even knew there was a problem. His plans for you will come to pass. No one can thwart them.

Blessings,
JOHN THOMAS

Copyright 2009 John Thomas. All rights reserved.

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