Obeying Out of Love or Fear?

obedience-out-of-love-or-fear-parenting
Obeying out of love or fear?

My eldest daughter, Maya, is the guinea pig for our different parenting styles.  Our bedtime routine for her is a good example of that difference.  I would classify my wife’s style as “obedience out of fear.”  I generously call mine “obedience out of love;” whether it’s truly love or just plain spoiling the child is something my wife contends.

For many months, I’ve been responsible for putting Maya to bed.  The routine after dinner is simple: take a bath, drink 8-oz of milk, read 2 to 3 books, brush teeth, read 2 to 3 more books, pray and then get tucked-in by 8:30pm or so.  Maya also has two 8-oz bottles of water on her nightstand that she would ask me to refill before she even finishes with one of them.

Obedience Out of Fear or Love?

Not surprisingly, Maya needs to potty three to five times before finally falling to sleep.  This means she’s not sleeping until 9:30 or 10pm on some nights.  Often, around 2am or 4am, she would wet her pull-up diapers completely, cry, and ask me to change her into a new one.

I do all of this without complaining.  I admit it’s a bit inconvenient for me.  Occasionally I put my foot down (i.e. refusing to tuck her in three times in one night), but I usually do everything she asks because it’s our idiosyncratic bedtime routine.  I know that this behavior will eventually pass and all of it would make a great story when she’s older.  Also, quite simply, love means self-sacrifice — giving up my preferences for the benefit of another.

When I went on a week-long business trip several weeks ago, my wife had to put Maya to sleep.  She was surprised by how spoiled Maya was.  Since she also had to take care of Hana, our youngest, at the same time, my wife changed the routine to accommodate the extra burden.  No water refills.  Change your own pull-up diaper.  Go potty only once or twice.  And, no tucking in.  Maya, of course, threw a tantrum, and my wife would threaten to close her bedroom door completely — an act that Maya sees as heavy punishment.

Coming home, my wife still wanted to put Maya to sleep because she had to “re-train” her.  So, every night was a scream-fest with Maya and mommy.  While I agreed with my wife that we should ween Maya off from her peculiar bedtime requests, I disagreed with her use of tactics that we usually employed only as a last resort.  I also threaten to close her bedroom door for time-out, but only for major infractions (i.e. repeated rudeness, throwing a hysterical tantrum, etc.)  Most of all, I disagree with my wife’s tone when reprimanding Maya.

Don’t get me wrong, my wife is a sweet woman.  So, even her deeply disapproving reprimands are like lovely feminine frowns.  She’s exhausted and needs to tap me in, like a wrestler in a tag-team match.  Yet my wife insists on staying in the ring.  Her willpower to resist Maya’s demands only gets stronger the louder our daughter screams.  I love my wife for devising punishments Maya fears that doesn’t involve spanking.  They’re effective and I use them, too.  But, a parent’s threats to induce fear will need to get more severe as the child grows older.  Sure, right now, Maya fears time-out with her door closed.  She’s only two, now.  What happens when she’s nine?  Or fourteen-years old?  We need to use the heavy punishments sparingly.

I take a different approach, normally.  I want Maya to love me so much that it is my absence that she fears.  She usually complies with what I want her to do if I threaten to walk away.  My nuclear option is mommy, as in, “Okay, mommy will [feed you/give you a bath/brush your teeth, etc.]”  Yes, I realize it’s unfair to leverage my own wife this way.  It’s ironic, though: throughout history mothers would threaten their children with “Wait until your father gets home.”  Maya would probably shout, “Yay!”

When my wife and I are calmly talking about our different parenting styles, I point out how her “obedience out of fear” is like how the Church gets people to behave and my “obedience out of love” is like how our Heavenly Father gets us to behave.  This is the Father that Jesus reveals, of course.  The God in the Old Testament is pretty scary at times.  It’s from the Father that Jesus reveals that  I take my parenting cues.  I don’t spoil my children; I am merciful as Our Heavenly Father is merciful.  Doing God’s will out of fear leads to resentment, like the elder brother in the Parable of the Prodigal Son.  In my spiritual life, I seek to love God so much that I want to do His will as a loving response.  So, my Father is to me, I am to my children.

I observe that this “obedience out of love” is incredibly inconvenient for me.  I need more patience compared to the fear method.  Sometimes it doesn’t work and Maya still disobeys.  This is no different than God’s experience.  Torture and death on the Cross is pretty inconvenient.  We still disobey quite often despite God’s infinite love for us.

I’ve come to conclude that both obedience out of fear and out of love have a place in parenting, just like we need the Church’s doctrine and God’s mercy in our spiritual life.  My wife may be harsh at times, but just like how the Church’s moral prescriptions may be harsh, they’re good for us.  She may be too strict, but they will always find mercy from me.  The Church’s doctrine may be too strict, but God’s mercy is greater.  Our children’s first experience of God will be through us.  Mommy’s discipline and Daddy’s forgiveness will build their character.  The Church’s discipline and God’s mercy will build their spirit.

What If My Children were Gay?

An old friend found my reflection about gay marriage and Satan ridiculous and challenged me to consider what I would do if I found out my children were gay.  My eldest daughter is now two years old and the other is just four months.  I have about six years or so before their sexual awareness.  So, I have time.

Nevertheless, it’s a very good question to explore, now.

Same-sex attraction is as natural as concupiscence.  It doesn’t make them bad people just as my tendency towards sexual immorality doesn’t make me a bad person.  We’re just broken in different ways.  What will bother me the most is the vitriol thrown at homosexuals by self-righteous people.

Moral Insiders Treating Others Without Dignity

Moral insiders often do not treat homosexuals with human dignity; I’d be even more sensitive to that if my girls were gay.  I think it is an injustice, the way we moral insiders treat moral outsiders.  I’ve been reflecting on the Parable of the Prodigal Son.  As the elder brothers, we should be going out to find our wayward younger brothers who are squandering our Father’s inheritance.  We should not be brooding in our Father’s house, objecting to His mercy.

My girls, if they are imperfect, need to be confident of my love for them – just as I am confident of Our Heavenly Father’s love for me, as imperfect as I am.  They need to understand the true meaning of free will, and the reality of God’s prodigal mercy.  Our goal in life is to become the best-version-of-ourselves.  If my girls discover that they are gay, then my job as their father is to help them become the best version of themselves, despite the heaviness of that Cross.  I am to be like Simon of Cyrene and help them carry their burden, not like the Pharisees who are ready to cast the first stone.

Maya drinks a bottle of milk and then a bottle of water or two before bed.  So, she needs to go to the bathroom three to five times before falling asleep.  My wife finds going potty that many times is excessive and that Maya is merely trying to avoid sleep.  When Maya sneaks out of her room and finds mommy, she cries while being told “it’s the last time.”  When she finds daddy, she gives a sheepish grin, takes his hand and skips to the bathroom.

Maya learns discipline from mommy, forgiveness from daddy (what Anne Marie terms “spoiling.”)  In matters of the Spirit, our Mother Church teaches me what is right and wrong, and our Heavenly Father teaches me about His abundant mercy.  Our home is our daughters’ first experience of the Trinity; if they cannot be accepted in our family for being gay, then we would have failed as parents to live out the Gospel message of love.

My love as a parent, though, doesn’t give me the right to define what is moral.  If my daughters choose to live a sinful life, then I will continue to love and bless them as God even now continues to love and bless me in my broken, sinful state.  How is their father any better as a Christian, any less of a sinner?  How is their sexual sin any worse than mine?  The sun will continue to shine on them as it does on me.

If they insist on gay marriage and children from that marriage, I will tell them that this is not what God wants.  There will be consequences, but I will be there for them.   I will continue to love, pray, fast and sacrifice myself for their sake.  I will care for their spouse, when she is sick.  I will babysit and cook for them so that they can have a break.  I will love them and the new community they’ll bring into my life, even though they are living a life of sin because God loves me even though I myself live a life of sin.  How can I do any less than my own Father?  Christ surrounded himself with moral outcasts and gave them hope.  Perhaps I am called to do the same with the help of my daughters?

Being a Christ-like example of love and mercy may not be enough to inspire my children to a life of conversion.  They may harden their hearts against any religious message because it contradicts the life they’ve chosen.  If that’s the case, then I will offer up my own life in exchange for their immortal souls.  There will be consequences to their actions, but I will pay those consequences myself if, in the end, they do not repent.  For God so loved the world that He gave up His only son for the expiation of their sins.  For I so love my daughters, I will give up my life for them.  What will my Passion be?  That’s for God to decide.  In the meantime, fatherhood is a training ground for that ultimate sacrifice.

So, to answer my friend’s challenge, while I cannot change God’s definition of marriage, I am willing to pay the price for His forgiveness of their sins.

Story of Hana’s Birth

Hana Therese Chiang was born on a rainy evening, November 29th, 2012.  We barely made it to the Methodist Hospital in time; my wife already felt the need to push as we went down the elevator to Labor & Delivery.  All told, we were in the hospital less than 30 minutes when our second child came into the world.

[instagram url=http://instagram.com/p/TkE_mDQKJ3/ width=400]

We didn’t intend to cut it so close.  We wanted to put our two-year old, Maya Elise, to sleep at my parents’ home before going to the hospital.  Maya wouldn’t fall asleep even after an hour.  We could hear her voice faintly in the cool and calm evening, screaming abandonment at our sudden departure.  I wiped the sad raindrops from our windshield as we left Maya with my parents.

We should’ve gone immediately to the hospital after Maya’s dinner and bath.  The contractions were getting closer, but still manageable at that point.  Had we done so, the hospital staff would have had time to get my wife a proper bed, prepared her with an IV solution in her arm, filled out the standard intake forms and Dr. Morrison would not have already gone home for the evening.

As the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20.  There was no sense in beating ourselves up.  The contractions were doing a fine job of that already.  Our immediate task was to divert attention away from the pain with breathing and visualizations.  Think happy thoughts.

It’s not exactly hypnosis, but I don’t know how else to describe it.  I didn’t use a gold watch and ask my wife to follow it with her eyes as I swung it back and forth.  I did use my most calm and soothing voice and insist that she look at me and breathe with me.  “Take a deep breath and moan when you exhale,” I’d say.  The contractions were hitting her hard while we were on the road.  My wife was getting nervous.  “We’re almost there, sweetheart — breathe with me!”  Her sweaty hands clenched mine tightly as I drove the wet roads with my other hand.  “Don’t worry, my love, we’re still an hour away from active labor.”  That, of course, turned out not to be true.

The nurses were scrambling for a bed and equipment while I tried to keep her from pushing.  My wife dropped to her knees in pain.  She held onto my hands, but gave me a look of fear.  “I want to push!”

One of the nurses stopped what she was doing, “Don’t push, dear, the doctor’s not here, yet!”

“Deep breath… Moan!  Uhhhhhhh!”  I moaned right alongside her.  “Relax… Deep breath… don’t push, relax the muscles — moan, uhhhhhhh!”

The water broke.  The nurses came into the room with a delivery bed and my wife immodestly ripped off her clothes and slipped into the hospital gown.

“There’s myconium,” a nurse said as she checked my wife’s labor.  I looked between my wife’s legs: yes, that looks like baby poo to me, too.  This means fetal distress and usually calls for a C-section.  Fortunately, we were too far along active labor for that.  There was a real emergency, though, because Hana could end up breathing the myconium into her lungs.  The nurse will stick a tube down Hana’s throat, suck out the afterbirth, and check to see if there’s any signs of myconium in the lungs.

“Where’s Dr. Morrison?”  My wife a asked.
“He’s on his a way,” replied a nurse.
“Should we get the epidural?”  she asked me.  Her brow was already covered with huge drops of sweat.
“Dr. Morrison is almost here,” I replied.  “Only a few more minutes.  The epidural will delay for an hour or more.”  My wife nodded in agreement.  The need to push came again.

My wife is literally a hero.  Courage, endurance and patience against an onslaught of pain.  Between each contraction, I tried to focus her on breathing, relaxing and preparing for the next wave.  I described visuals of Guam, Hawaii, and Moganshan.  I reassured her that Hana was okay.

Her eyes would bulge as she stared into mine.  I smiled, “You’re doing great!  I’m so proud of you.  You’re amazing!  Breathe with me — deep breath, uhhhhh!”  We kept that up for over 20 minutes.

When the doctor finally arrived, my wife only needed a few pushes and Hana was out.  We didn’t need to push with Maya.  The doctor we had then, Dr. Fong, insisted that we not push and let the uterus do the pushing.  Perhaps there was more of an urgency this time because of signs of fetal distress.  The pushing caused a bit of tearing.  Hana was also bigger than Maya at birth: 7lbs, 6oz compared to 5lbs, 3oz.

Hana latched on quickly.  I was back at my parents’ home before midnight to put Maya to sleep.

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