Moral precept #6: Avoid legalism when giving an instruction

In my last post, I pointed out the need for considering context in any situation where you give an instruction or decide to explain the moral or practical reason for your instruction. Today, I will explore the need for context related to a bad trait that too many parents exhibit: legalism.

Legalist parents to go the extreme of labeling every action as either morally right or wrong. Or worse, they will label every action as obedient or disobedient. They don’t consider context.

Stay with me as I provide this excerpt from the book:

“If you’re a Babywise parent, you will remember this warning. In an attempt to ensure moral compliance, some parents go to the dangerous extreme of labeling every behavior either right or wrong, without any consideration given to context. Making such sweeping statements is neither accurate nor appropriate.

“This is legalism country. Legalism elevates method over moral principle to create prohibitions. When we value the law more than we do grace, we succumb to legalism. …

“The most notable habit of a legalist is rejecting context. Responding to the context of a situation does not mean we’ve lapsed into moral relativism or that we should suspend law or principle. It means we should apply them in the most appropriate way. We hold to the spirit of the law. Considering context guards against legalism,” (On Becoming Childwise, p. 85).

Let’s go back to my Starbucks example. I don’t tell my boys to never run in Starbucks because there may be a small chance that they will need to run. Maybe there’s a fire. Maybe somebody is hurt and they want to help. Maybe there’s a potty emergency. In any case, legalism can get us into trouble.

Beyond this, we must consider context when deciding whether our children are being obedient or disobedient. Some parents are so legalistic that if a child makes the slightest step into a behavioral grey area, the parent will be quick to label the child as disobedient. Children are people, too! They make honest mistakes! They must evaluate context themselves.

Certainly, there are times when we must keep our children on a short leash, but we must not be so limited in our thinking.


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