We received a letter recently asking about the balance between a father’s authority and a daughter’s independence. Knowing that this question is a common one among girls making the transition from childhood to adulthood, we have decided to post our response to this family.
Dear damsels thinking yourselves in distress,
Your parents have both written to us to ask us our advice and encouragement on your situation (parents and maturing daughters striving to understand the balance between authority, liberty, maturity, submission, and responsibility.). What we would mostly like to do is share some of our thoughts on family dynamics in a household of adults.
Many stay-at-home girls believe that, as they become adults, their fathers’ jurisdiction over their lives will lessen. They feel that, in order to mature into individuals able to think and act for themselves, they must be “liberated” from another’s input into their lives. This is because we’re drowning in a culture that doesn’t understand what the Bible says about individualism vs. unity, autonomy vs. authority, or license vs. liberty.
Dear girls – don’t be afraid of losing your “individual personhood” or the ability to think for yourself, and don’t think that those are the signs of an adult. Any two-year-old girl has a mind of her own and most certainly thinks for herself. Every woman knows her own mind – it’s part of being Eve’s daughters. It’s not a sign of maturity to struggle for autonomy – that’s toddler stuff. The sign of our maturity and adulthood is when we willingly submit ourselves to God-given authority and therefore to God Himself. This is a struggle, and it requires strength, wisdom, responsibility and spiritual maturity.
Here is the difference between a child and an adult: a child has to be told what to do. An adult should have the intelligence and maturity to take the responsibility to pro-actively look for ways to further the father’s vision. From a child, a parent can’t expect much more than obedience. An adult son or daughter in a household should have a lot more to contribute to the family mission than mere obedience. An adult daughter, raised well by conscientious parents, will be able to think, will know how to live sensibly, will be discerning and self-controlled and self-disciplined, and will be wise and have understanding that may, in some areas, exceed that of her parents.
The sign of maturity isn’t that we simply “obey” our parents’ commands, but that we understand deeply what our parents’ hearts and goals are, and can anticipate and even exceed what they expect of us. A mature, adult daughter who deserves her parents’ trust most certainly isn’t the one who says, “I’m not a child anymore, Dad! I’m an adult! I’m old enough to decide for myself when to get up, and it’s not something you have authority over anymore!” (Literally, “I’m mature enough to demand my own way, and throw a tantrum and threaten to run away if I don’t get it!”) But she also isn’t the one who says, “Ok, ok, Dad, I’ll get up when you tell me to.” The mature daughter is the one that takes the initiative and says, “Dad, what time would you like me to get up? I know that spending time with your family before you leave for work is important to you, and I love that about you… so how can I help make it happen?” This is one thing that makes us different from mindless automatons with no wills of our own (which some girls seem mortally afraid of becoming.)
Once we’re adults, we shouldn’t always need to ask our parents what they want us to do, but that’s not because we shouldn’t care what they want; it’s because our judgment should be grounded in an understanding of their ultimate desires. However, Proverbs tell us that it’s a sign of wisdom to seek counsel from others wiser than ourselves. Even the most mature adults still make mistakes, which could have been alleviated through “a multitude of counselors.” (Proverbs 11:14)
As we become older, we shouldn’t become more independent of our families; we ought to become more involved with our families. After all our parents’ years of investing in us, we finally have something substantial to contribute to their mission. Now is when we need to throw ourselves, our minds, our skills, our gifts, our passions, and our identities behind our parents’ success. (For a parable about the duties of those under authority to carefully steward the best interests of those over them, see Matthew 25:14-29. To those girls who have unbelieving parents: for an example of a young believer dedicating himself to the success of the pagan authority God placed over him, see Genesis 39:1-6, and for an example of another discerning young believer who understood his duty to zealously advance his King in everything except his unbiblical decrees, see the book of Daniel.)
In our household, five of our seven children (all unmarried and living at home) are adults; four of us are in our twenties. Three of us have written books. Four of us have begun our own business. Two of us have our “own” ministry. Five of us speak at conferences. All of us have education and expertise in areas that exceeds that of our parents in multiple areas. But we don’t use these facts as an excuse to “outgrow” our parents. We use these things as tools to advance our parents. To build on their vision. To establish their authority. To proclaim their names in the gates. We all have taken our father’s vision and made it our own. This knitting together of our minds, hearts, and gifts has forged us together into one powerful weapon for Christ’s glory and Kingdom. Together, we are ten times more fruitful and effective than we each would be, separated from our parents’ unifying vision.
Giving glory to our parents, of course, isn’t our ultimate goal. We do all this for the purpose of giving glory to God. We only invest time in developing those gifts that will render us most useful to our Creator and King. This means dying to ourselves; it means sacrificing our personal interests and agendas. Ultimately, it means losing our lives so that we may find them. But that is the Christian life.
We need to see the liberty inside this grand vision, rather than looking for license outside it. Instead of repining all the things we may have to give up (e.g. “my life,” “my space,” “my time,” “my dreams,” “my schedule,” “my way,” “my friends,” etc.), we should say “good riddance” to useless, selfish, autonomous “adulthood,” and mature into loving the joy, productivity and adventure that is life in a Christian family unit.
Communicating with our fathers
Your mother mentioned that communication is an issue. This is an issue in every family, including our own. Women need to have a realistic understanding of how men – even the best men – communicate. It’s not the way women do. It’s not the way women expect them to or want them to. Every father has a hard time knowing how to communicate with his daughter. But there are ways that a daughter can help her father communicate with her.
Observation one: Daughters often need to initiate, especially at first.
Observation two: Daughters need to be really, really careful about the tone in which they pour out their hearts to their fathers. A father’s protective, shepherding instinct will make him naturally feel that every problem distressing his daughter is his fault. Daughters have a tendency to think sharing her heart = dumping all her frustrations and burdens and emotionalism and accusations on the shoulders of her poor dad, and then feeling even more emotional and distraught when he responds by acting bewildered and defensive. This doesn’t actually nurture the father-daughter bond.
Observation three: A father can’t communicate properly with a daughter he cannot fully trust in. His heart can’t fully trust in you until he knows he has your hearts.
Giving our hearts to our fathers
You’ve probably heard many times that you need to “give your heart to your parents.” What does it actually mean to give your parents your heart?
The heart, called “the seat of the affections,” is the source of all passions, desires, loves, interests, likes and dislikes, convictions and opinions. Proverbs 23:26 says, “Give me your heart, my son, and let your eyes delight in my ways.”
God wants our hearts and all that they contain to be surrendered to our parents – and ultimately to God – to be molded and directed. Making yourself vulnerable in this way requires Trust. You must trust your parents, that they ultimately desire what is best for you, and that they are qualified to lead you and guide you simply because they are your parents chosen by God to raise you.
It also requires Faith. Faith that God will lead you through your parents, imperfect though they are. And faith in God’s promised blessings for your obedience.
When your parents have your heart you will truly “delight in their ways.” You will love what they love, hate what they hate, and desire their approval and company and even “think their thoughts after them.”
This is called “seeking after the hearts of your parents” just as King David was “a man after God’s own heart.”
Similarly, your parent’s hearts should be able to trust in you, as it says in Proverbs 31, “The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her…” This means that they will have confidence in your obedience, when they are watching and when they’re not, that you will demonstrate loyalty to them and to every thing they have taught you, in what you speak and do, in public and in private.
“My son, keep your father’s command, and do not forsake the law of your mother. Bind them continually upon your heart; tie them around your neck. When you roam, they will lead you; when you sleep, they will keep you; and when you awake, they will speak with you. For the commandment is a lamp, and the law is a light; reproofs of instruction are the way of life…” Proverbs 6:20-23
Preparation for Marriage
Don’t be impatient for Prince Charming to rescue you from your father’s “heavy hand,” thinking that once you’re married to your perfect husband, your authority problems will vanish. It’s folly to think it will be easier to respect and submit to a husband than a father.
We’re not ready to consider ourselves eligible for marriage until we’ve learned to trust an imperfect individual with our lives. To communicate with a man, which will always be a struggle. To submit to an imperfect man’s “whims” as well as his heavy requirements. To order our lives around another person. To accept the burdens a man places on us cheerfully. To esteem and reverence and adore a man whose faults we can see clearly every day.
These are things we will face every day as wives, just as we face them every day now as the daughters of our fathers. We need to practice now, trusting our heavenly Father to lead our earthly fathers, and our earthly fathers to lead us, even though we know they’re not perfect.
Dear girls, if you have a father who wants to be your Christian authority and protector, and lead you in paths of righteousness, you are three of the most blessed girls in America. Most the girls who write to us after having read our book beg for help because their fathers still don’t have the vision, and aren’t really comfortable with their daughters trying to live the biblical model at home; or that their fathers don’t have their own businesses and don’t have anything for their daughters to do; or that their fathers are indifferent to them, and uninterested in their lives. You have a father in a million. Let him know how grateful you are for him.
We hope this email will be helpful. If you have any more questions for us, don’t hesitate to send them!
God bless you and your family.
Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin