By Megan Hill
Like most Christian families with young children, our daily life is filled with directions. Eat this. Drink that. Say you’re sorry. Please be quiet. Please speak up. Come here. Go there. Stop. Start. Wait. As the mother of three sons, I exercise my role of authority over them in thousands of ways ranging from Bible memorization to broccoli to bedtime.
So the first time my three sons really understood complementarianism, the first time they grasped that husbands are the God-given leaders of their wives, they were shocked. Daddy is the authority over you? They asked, eyes wide. You have to obey Daddy?
Their blunt questions made me uncomfortable. I wanted to protest that there was more to the story, that a husband’s authority is nuanced, that they were misunderstanding. I’m sure there will be a time for explaining those relational details—what the writers of the Westminster Larger Catechism call “the duties which we mutually owe in our several relations, as inferiors, superiors, or equals”—but, in facing my children’s amazement, I found an opportunity.
I worried that seeing Mommy under authority would undermine me in my children’s eyes. In fact, it has helped me to be a better mother. Being an openly complementarian mom allows me to come alongside my children: to sympathize with their humble position, to model for them a lifetime of submission, and to point them to Christ.
I Sympathize with My Children
Despite our rose-colored adult memories of a carefree childhood, it’s not actually easy to be a child. My children eat, sleep, and play when I tell them to. They have to ask permission to go outside or online. They hear the word “no” frequently.
As a person under authority, a person who acts according to the direction of another, I understand my children. I know the sin-struggle of wanting to be in charge, and I know the grace that comes from the God who calls and is faithful. By embracing complementarianism, I can come alongside my children—my neighbors—fellow human beings who, like me, are in the humble position of being under authority.
Joel Beeke and James La Belle write in Living Zealously, “if. . .children realize they are being disciplined or corrected for the things that their parents appear to get away with, they either complain about a double standard or quietly look forward to the day when they will outgrow such childish rules.” This is true not only of hypocritical family policies but also of authority itself, and my open acknowledgement of my husband’s authority over me diffuses my children’s resentment and allows them to see that they are not alone.
Acknowledging my place under authority also helps me to exercise godly authority. In Paul’s instructions to masters he encourages them to compassionate and godly leadership by reminding them that they, too, are under authority: “Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven” (Col. 4:1). I am not an absolute authority, and remembering this enables me to love my child-neighbors, exercising my authority with gentleness, kindness, and dignity, as I myself want to be treated.
I Model a Life of Submission
A child’s vision of adulthood is usually idealized autonomy. I’m quite sure my sons frequently dream of eating nothing but ice cream and French fries, going to bed at midnight, and turning the house into a 1500-square-foot Lego construction site that never has to be cleaned up. In their minds, to be grown-ups is to make their own choices about everything: vegetables, movies, cars.
Author Tedd Tripp writes, “Our culture has no notion of intelligent, thinking persons willingly placing themselves under authority.” In reality, however, roles of authority always have a limited duration, while submission continues throughout life.
As they grow, my sons may have opportunities to have a position of authority. They may be husbands and fathers. They may be called by the church to be elders or deacons. They may be elected by their communities to positions in government. They may be employers.
But they will likely also continue under some aspect of the authority of church, state, or employer. Certainly, they will spend a lifetime under the authority of God and his word. Like the centurion who told Jesus, “’I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me’” (Luke 7:8) being an adult usually involves leading and submitting.
As a mom under authority, I can demonstrate for my children both dignity and humility, ultimately seeking to model Christ himself. In the words of Puritan preacher Henry Smith, “As Christ ceased not to be a King because He was like a servant, nor to be a lion because He was like a lamb, nor to be God because He was made man, nor to be a judge because He was judged; so a man doth not lose his honour by humility, but he shall be honored for his humility.”
I Point to Christ
As a mother, I find myself learning and relearning daily how to submit, not only to the earthly structures of authority, but also to my God and his word. Ultimately each of us—husband and wife, child and parent—must bow to the Lord of all and take our direction from him. And this is another opportunity to identify with my children, because I know—as they are only beginning to learn—that humble and joyful submission necessarily drives me to the gospel of Christ.
No sooner than I believe I have mastered submission, my inner Eve rises up in rebellion. As soon as I think I’ve exercised authority well, I give way to harshness or impatience. In the flesh, I cannot be a perfect example to my children, but I can point them to the One who submitted to the will of the Father and whose blood and righteousness cover my failure.
In this way, hand-in-hand with my children, I cling to the cross.
Megan Hill lives in Mississippi with her three young sons and her husband, who is a PCA pastor. She is a regular contributor to Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics site and writes a personal blog at www.SundayWomen.com
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