How Do Our Children Obey?

I had one of those introspective moments a few mornings ago as I fed my dogs.

It was early and the entire house was asleep (except for me, of course). They were rambunctious for such an early hour and I was growing irritated. My words were a bit harsh with them, as I did not want any of my children to wake up.

They cowered as I spoke. In obedience to my intense tone they quickly found the floor. As I continued to pour their food and refill their water bowl, the thought occurred to me:

There’s a difference between obedience out of love and obedience out of fear.

I realized, in that moment, that my dogs were obeying me out of fear and not out of love. Sure they’re dogs, so they love me no matter what. But cowering below me was not an act of love, it was an act of fear.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

And then I began to think about my children. I mulled over my interactions with them as their father. I tested myself against this realization. I asked myself, “Self, do your children obey you because they love you or because they fear you? And, because they love you do they also fear you and because they fear you do they also love you?” (If that’s totally confusing, I apologize!)

The more I thought about it, the more uneasy I became. Does my 12-year old daughter pick her clothes up from the floor of her bedroom because she she loves us and is learning to appreciate our home, or does she pick them up because she’s afraid of being lectured by one of us? Ouch!

This is a valid question I’m wrestling with- do my children obey me out of love or out of fear? In true confession- I’m having a tough time with the answer.

Does my 6 year old son follow the rules and behave politely in public because he loves and respects our wishes as his parents or does he follow the rules and behave politely because he fears the repercussions when we arrive home? (Disclaimer- he’s 6, so any ounce of behavior, whether by fear or love, is gladly welcomed for now! ;-))

My desire is that my children obey out of love and not out of fear. However….

I also need to consider the health of obedience from fear. After all, as children they do need to have a healthy fear of us as their parents, right?

It’s a good thing the fear of what we will say to them or do to them if they make a bad choice exists in the back of their minds (or at least should exist in the back of their minds). I want a part of their decision making to be driven by the potential disappointment or sadness we would have over their choices. When they are teenagers I want them to stop and say to themselves before they disobey a rule- “Mom and dad would DESTROY me if they knew I was doing this. I better not do it!” I also hope they will consider the cost of their choices.

Therefore healthy fear- the fear of what the cost will be, or what our consequence for them will be, or what we will say or think, or our disappointment, or our sadness over their choice, is good thing. In fact, it’s welcomed.

Truth is- I don’t want their obedience to be a derivative of being afraid of us (as if we are a couple of dictators demanding their humble compliance). I want them to obey us because they love us and respect us. But I also want a healthy fear to exist while they are journeying through childhood and adolescence. I believe having a good balance of both is valuable.

What do you think?

Question: Do your children obey you out of fear or out of love? What other insight could you bring to this topic? Comment now and join the conversation!

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