There’s a recurring theme that I’ve encountered in my (still limited number of) parenting days; its the idea that anything that imposes our will as parents onto our children ought to be banished. It says that reward charts are bad because they stop a child from being self motivated, that we mustn’t discipline our children because then they won’t feel loved; we must let our children develop their own sense of themselves and forge their own paths.
Does this backlash about obedience stem from our own days of childhood where we were expected to “just do it”, “because I said so”? Is it that we vowed never to be like that when we were parents and so, now we strive to parent our children differently, aiming to develop an internal monologue that guides them?
And yet, the rate of body image disorders and self harm rise every day. Children are lost and hurting…and it gets worse almost by the minute. I can’t help but feel that the more parents have lost the sense that they are the authority, the guiding light – loving and firm – in their children’s lives, that children have lost a sense of security that even impinges on their sense of being loved and worthy.
It’s not that I don’t desire my children to be self-motivated people, it is that I believe that being a disciplined person is a good thing and something being lost in modern parenting.
The other day I came across an article in The Telegraph about Amy Chua, author of the infamous book Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother. I’ve read the hype surrounding the book, but not the book itself and so I was more than a little intrigued when the author said this
No wonder Tiger Mother gets lost in translation. It uses a vocabulary of self-discipline, striving and excellence that would have been utterly familiar to the wartime generation, but which, in two generations, has become politically incorrect.
What I’m wondering as I parent my ever vocal almost 4 is can obedience go hand in hand with being a person who can think for themselves?
I sure hope so (and really do think so) because I do expect my children to be obedient.
I believe that boundaries are good for children and that obeying their parents is a good discipline that will benefit them later in life.
Some people may interpret this to mean blind obedience, that I am going to raise children who a) can’t think for themselves or b) will rebel drastically in their teen years. I don’t think that’s it.
What does obedience look like (for me)? It means respecting me as the parent and as a person of authority (yes, authority) in their lives. I welcome their questioning and challenges however I expect them to be made respectfully, and if the answer is still no then I expect that to be accepted. It means not arguing at everything I say, every time I say it. I suspect my definition will grow and change as my children grow and change.
Of course all of this is a work in progress, I certainly don’t expect my 3 year old not to argue – however when she speaks rudely to me, I correct her and teach her a better way to speak. She is mostly a very polite little girl, saying please, thank you and finally(!!) learning to say “excuse me!” I don’t see teaching her these things as a form of tyrannical parenting but as a gift to her. A little girl with lovely manners is going to go further than a little girl who pushes, shoves and yells all the time. More than that, these are values that we hold as important in our family and so we expect our children to learn.
Does it mean doing what I say just because I say it? Sometimes, yes it does. However, I also believe that obedience is not just one sided. If I ask and expect my children to obey me, then I am greatly responsible for the way I speak to them and what I ask of them.
We want our kids to be able to make good decisions that embrace who they are – but how can they do that if they’re don’t have a model of it. A model of making and sticking to decisions, of taking responsibility for their choices and following through? If we don’t stick to our guns as parents, how can we expect that our children will?
If there’s one thing I am certain of its that my kids will be presented with,nor even seek out experiences that I would prefer they don’t have. In those moments, I won’t be there to guide them so I need to make sure I’ve prepared them in other ways for that time – to keep them safe, both physically and emotionally.
This year I have resolved to cultivate discipline in my own life and when it comes to the kids I don’t need to worry so much about whether my kids know they are loved – we are effusive in our language and behaviour, we actively listen and positively discipline. What I need to be sure about is that we don’t let our kids down by not helping them to be the best version of themselves; by not teaching them to be respectful, to be considerate and empathetic, to not teach them that they need to give their best to life – all of it.
I believe that children are not mini adults, nor are they just trying to “push my buttons” when they behave badly. Often they just want to understand - so yes, if I say they need to do x then that what’s I expect them to do, but I am conscious to explain to them the “why”. It’s my responsibility to treat them with respect, to really listen to them and to apologisie when I am wrong. They are their own people, with their own personalities, strengths, weaknesses, passions and gift. A big part of my job is to see them for who they are and help them learn to deal with and navigate those things…with grace.
When I am met with strong resistance, in my better parenting moments, I will stop and think “is there something I could do or explain to help Bliss understand or accept my decision? Am I making the wrong decision here and do I need to change my mind and let her have her way?” I don’t always get this right and I do expect that Bliss will accept my decision, even if it’s not the best one I could have made. She is only 3 after all.
This probably sounds really hardline, and it’s true that I do expect a lot of my children. I also shower them with love, heap on them words of affirmation and encouragement and fail every. single. day. at being the parent I dream of. Don’t we all?
The language of obedience doesn’t sit well, it smacks of heavy handed parenting that stagnated children’s sense of self worth and zest for life. I hope you understand that the type of obedience I am talking about here is intended to help my children soar in life, to live fully the huge enthusiasm for life that they both have in a way that both brings them a sense of fulfilment and contributes to the community they are part of.
I believe learning obedience is a good thing, do you?