Louisa Claire


The Modern Parent: A Question Of Obedience

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?

Just to prove I'm not an ogre - check out the fun Miss Bliss had painting herself and house purple!


Thoughts on “The Modern Parent: A Question Of Obedience

  1. I think it’s a common (and annoying) misconception that gentle discipline means no discipline or because you are not into punishment or rewards that you aren’t into discipline. I am very pro-discipline. Discipline as learning. And I am also pro-consequences. But that doesn’t mean I’m pro-punishment or pro-rewards. And it certainly doesn’t mean I’m walking around with children with no boundaries, no manners and no sense of respect.

    Often there are just two different ways of achieving the same thing. For example with manners. One parent might follow the conventional route and remind their young child when to say please, thank you, excuse me and the child will learn that and do it. Usually when parents do that they’ll explain what are good manners, why we use them so their child also has an understanding of it rather than just doing it because it’s expected.

    It took the less conventional route and rarely reminded Riley of manners. I relied on my own modelling of saying please and thank you (and everything else) for her to learn and understand how to use manners. She is extremely well mannered. I guess I did it because I wanted it to come from her rather than just repeating the words without really understanding why.

    Both ways although different achieve the same thing but one isn’t better than the other. I just picked the one that I felt most comfortable with as a parent.
    Zoey @ Good Googs recently posted..290/365 Rocking the Baby DressMy Profile

    • Thanks so much Zoey, when I was writing this post I was nervous about it because it’s obviously a personal topic and I know there are a lot of bloggers who I thought would disagree with me. I guess I’m not so much talking about gentle discipline, because clearly that’s a very well thought out approach to parenting that includes a “plan” and intention to teach your child. I’m more thinking about the reaction against the way our parents did things, that doesn’t include a planned approach to parenting & that can let our kids down by not teaching them skills and manners and discipline that helps them in life. On the topic of manners, we actually did both – we would talk about they ‘why’ but it was actually the modelling of those things that made the biggest difference with Bliss and we have been really deliberate about being an example for her to learn from. I think that a lot of this is heavily personality driven and as you say there’s more than one way to achieve the same thing. x

      • Thanks for clarifying Louisa! I think it’s a tough topic because I see alot of negative stereotypes about attachment parenting/gentle discipline being thrown around all the time as if it is actually the same as not parenting at all.

        My post today is about how short I’ve fallen from my parenting ideals so I’m hardly an authority.
        Zoey @ Good Googs recently posted..290/365 Rocking the Baby DressMy Profile

  2. Luckily, my little community of mummies are all in your boat, Louisa, so I don’t feel like ‘the bad mum’ too often for disciplining my kids. While we don’t smack, we definitely punish (with the ‘spot’) bad behaviour.

    While we sometimes give reasons for our discipline, sometimes it is just ‘because we said so’. Not because we want our kids to fear us or blindly obey, but because we believe respecting your elders is still important (and oh so lacking in so many kids, sadly).

    Providing boundaries and rules for my kids gives them the freedom, I believe, to find their own way, learn and grow. We can’t expect children to learn everything by experience – it’s our job as parents to nurture them, not only with food, shelter and love, but also with guidance and help and, yes, discipline.

    When my five year old is upset with me and screams ‘you’re not my friend any more!!’ I stand my ground, hide a smile, and reply ‘that’s ok, because I’m your mummy and you’ll love me more for that one day.’

    I guess what I’m saying, is that I agree with you. And while I respect that other people choose different forms of discipline, or little discipline at all, this is how we do it, because we believe it is going to grow these little people we have been entrusted with into pretty awesome big people.
    Tam recently posted..The mornings series {wake up!}My Profile

    • I loved this line “because we believe it is going to grow these little people we have been entrusted with into pretty awesome big people” – Amen to that!! Of course there’s more than one way to skin a cat, but this is exactly what I’m talking about!! x

  3. I agree with both you and Zoey. I’m HUGE on manners and “obedience” but the way I go about it is actually very gentle. My husband is much harsher in his techniques saying “cos I said so” very often indeed! and it is a source of disagreement between us even though we actually are expecting the same behaviour. This sounds worse than it is when I say we disagree but as we have common expectations it’s something we find fairly easy to work together on. I actually think my gentler approach (particularly in the face of a tantrum) is more effective. I actually think empathy and energy are the key to being the parent I want to be. We don’t do reward charts or time outs because I’d rather work through things in other ways. What we really want to instill in our children is an internal compass that will allow them to make the “right” decision when they are faced with things on their own as they grow. It can be exhausting to answer questions and explain things over and over but I’ve found this more efficient than expecting blind obedience. I respect attachment parenting just as much as my own mixed up muddled way of parenting as it comes from a place of incredible love. I don’t much respect the supremely authoritarian “do it because I said said so & don’t you dare question me” or the “I’m too lazy to bother telling you what to do” styles which I know aren’t prevalent but do exist.
    Cat recently posted..(more) Adventures in SleepMy Profile

    • Oh my goodness, the endless questions is totally exhausting. The refusal to accept the answer “I don’t know” is totally exhausting. Sometimes I just want to tear my hair out but at the same time I just LOVE the curiosity – I love watching this little mind ticking things over, and working it out – seeking answers and stories. It’s just exhilarating! I love the words “empathy” and “energy” to describe parenting – you always inspire me Cat! x

  4. Hi Louisa,
    I have older children (16, 8 and 6) and there are times (hopefully not many) when you need blind obedience such as in an emergency situation. However, I think you are on the right track here. There is a balancing act but part of parenting is teaching your children there is a time and place for challenging social norms and that is what will keep them safe and ethical (again hopefully). On day to day stuff, manners allows children to interact positively with their peers and adults. As well as modelling and parent teaching, I believe we need to reintroduce manners as a non assessable subject within all Australian primary schools. Sadly some children aren’t taught manners at home or cultural differences may mean there is miscommunication within this area. I’m not talking about ‘imposing’ manners within schools but rather providing a formal framework so that all Australian children know what is going on around them. To this end I am working on such a program that hopefully will find a place within the national curriculum and also have written two children’s books with manners as the theme which I am hoping to have published this year. I am doing this in collaboration with a friend who will be putting together a DVD to support the educational material. Our firm belief is that while much of this needs to be taught at home prior to going to school, it is at school (and daycare/kindergarten) as children learn to interact outside of their own families, that the value of manners is reinforced /or not. We often receive comment on the manners of our children (they aren’t good all the time though!) and I sometimes think it is sad that what should be regular ordinary behaviour is remarked upon not because it is brilliant but because of the absence of manners in other children/adults. Teaching obedience does go hand in hand with manners because part of obedience and indeed manners is the core value of respect. And respect should e a two way street. As I said before we have three children, the first took nine years to make his way onto the planet ad for that reason as much as anything else my husband I learnt that being a parent is a privilege – and one not to take lightly. Your child/ren can have many friends but no one is likely to have as much vested interest in ensuring they have the best upbringing for a happy and fulfilling life. That is our privilege.
    Really enjoyed the points you raise.
    Cheers leisa

    • Really interesting stuff Leisa, the whole topic of manners is huge! I like that you’ve said manners and respect go hand in hand, it’s not just about being seen to do the right thing but about actually having your heart right and there’s nothing that will help direct that more than the example set by their parents. Really interesting stuff!

  5. As parents we can only muddle along day by day hoping that we are doing the right thing. I jokingly say that I raised my kids in a benign dictatorship where at the end of the day my word was law. But I also taught my children to argue effectively (sometimes much to my annoyance) and I think I managed to give them a fairly good social conscience as well.
    As for a having a good work ethic (self discipline) That is mostly down to the child’s inherent nature. You can not instil a good work ethic into a child that is not interested in working at anything. I am speaking from the perspective of a parent of a 17 year old who has just spent the last year sleeping. Admittedly he has some health issues but I find the lack of self motivation baffling when my methods worked for my elder child but not my younger.
    So dont stress Louisa, You are your childrens model and they will learn how to act in the world from watching how you act.I believe kids need you to be their parent not their friend and once they are grown up they will do their own thing anyway and all you can do is hope that they learned something from you.
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  6. Children need , and desire, boundaries. They need to know that we care about them and that certain behaviour is unacceptable.
    Our children need to be prepared for the big wide world of work and no Boss is going to be your friend. There are expectations and consequences and kids need to learn that.
    I expect my kids to question me and push boundaries. I think it shows that I’m doing a good job raising them and that they aren’t little wall flowers and have opinions too. But they are learning that there is a time and place for everything and they are learning when they just need to do as they are told and when they can express their own thoughts.
    My parents were strict and we got our buttons warming if needed BUT we were never told “because I said so”. We always got an explanation and we had 3 warnings if we were being monkeys. We new what was coming after that. We had boundaries.
    I think the problem is that parents want to be their children’s friends, and that does come when we’re older. But in doing that we then can’t guide them to be well mannered, hard working adults because there is no respect for adults and older people.
    We love our girls (4 and 6) and shower them with love, cuddles and verbal praise. they both have good manners, kind hearts and respect adults.
    Kids need guidance in their path to being an adult and I think with this new age parenting of letting kids find their own way, the kids are getting lost because they have no clue.
    Probably rambled but I parent like you Lou and I’m so proud of my beautiful happy girls. We have to be doing something right :-()

    • “Children need, and desire boundaries” – totally agree! I also love this “I expect my children to question me and push boundaries” – totally! Have a whole post about that in my head too – I love that, but like you I expect there to be a meeting of the two. Love it Lolls, thank you for sharing. x

  7. Hi Louise, This post is very timely for me, because I have been re-thinking everything about parenting lately (mostly based on a whole lot of failures!). In summary, I think my “old way” was too heavily judgement/ unquestioned obedience-based, and my “new way” is seeking to be more gracious. I am concious of not swinging the pendulum too far the other way and ending up being “permissive”. I definitely still use a lot from my “old way” – routines, talking about consequences (though now more based on how our behaviour effects others, natural consequences), but I have definitely been convicted that often “bad” behaviour needs a hug, not a time out. I have found that when I am angry, my natural tendency is to withdraw my affection (especially physically), and this did not bode well for my relationship with Miss 3. Thankfully she is very forgiving, God is gracious, my husband is awesome and supportive and I’m feeling much more comfortable with providing boundaries/ discipline in a more gentle way.
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    • The lines between gracious and permissive can seem so blurry at times, I totally hear that. It’s hard to change the way you do things but I admire your resolve to do that, it’s always easier just to keep doing what you’ve always been doing. I think you’re totally spot on about bad behaviour sometimes needing a hug not a time out.

  8. Firstly – such a cute photo!!
    Thanks for the beautiful article Louisa. I almost didn’t start to read it (being a non-parent and all I didn’t think I could comprehend or contribute!) but as I read on it really made me think – about my childhood and if I have children, the day when I am the parent. I think you summed it up quite well in saying obedience and discipline are gifts to your children. Because when they go out into the world as caring, polite beings they’ll have those attributes on their side.
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  9. Some great points! Especially about how the way we ourselves were parented as children has an impact on how we parent our own children. Because of how I was brought up, I aim to explain things more so that my children understand why I’m asking what I am. But there are definitely times when kids need to do as they’re told without questioning or explanation for whatever reason! Parenting… I wish there was just one straight way of doing it… But that would mean all children would be the same, and that would just be boring. My youngest may only be 10 months, but we can already tell that she’s very different from her older brother!
    Alyce {Blossom Heart} recently posted..Guest Post: Six Lessons I Loved Learning – Road Trip.My Profile

    • Thanks Alyce, I’m constantly amazed by how much my parenting approach is shaped by the way I was parented. It’s scary when you think about it really… I also don’t think I’ll ever stop being amazed at how different my two kids are, incredible isn’t it?!

  10. Some really great points here Louisa and I can see why you were nervous about writing it. Parenting is such a tough road and we put such a great deal of pressure on ourselves to do the ‘right’ thing. We are nervous about what others think of what we’re doing and how we’re going as parent but truth be known – we are our own worst critics.

    I think if you are true to yourself and are doing what you believe is the best for you and your children – then chances are you’re on the right track. To me it seems you have a clear balance between actions and words for your kids and like you’ve mentioned – your little miss nearly 4 is a polight, well-mannered little girl. The outcomes speak for themselves.

    For us (be it right or wrong) we have reminded and reminded and reminded our kids to use their manners and why. We are also extremely mindful of our own behaviour because no matter how well you teach your children, if you model something different – you’ve got little chance of changing their behaviour. In fact both my hubby and I have often said that our manners increased ten-fold since we’ve had children in an effort to bring up thoughtful, nice, well-mannered kids. We are often getting comments and feedback about how well-mannered our kids are (both with us and when they’re away from us) so, so far so good :)
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  11. I totally misread the first paragraph and thought you were saying that was your approach to parenting. I was confused and trying to reconcile this in my head with the family I know. haha. Glad I read on with a bit more attention.
    Everyone else has made some really good points. So I wont try to repeat them.
    I am also failing everyday at being the mum I wanted, and want to be. But, for me, it’s important to keep trying. Without the guilt of failing yesterday. But also, to never give up and say “it’s good enough, I ‘spose”.

    I also think the parenting differently than our parents thing is funny. My mum parented softly because her mum was really really hard. My dad made up for her softness by being exactly like her mum. But he did things that his dad never did like come to all of our sports things.
    My husbands father didn’t have a dad and his mum worked too hard to support them, so he made sure his kids never went without and they were financially super ok. My husband, in turn, wants to make sure that he is present and not money hungry and off earning it somewhere else. I will not let my kids give up something they have started. My parents let me start and give up so many things. they thought they were being kind, I found it didn’t help me at all.
    I guess we all try and improve on the example we have been given. But in doing so, we create an imperfect example of parenting for our children to improve on … I’m babbling. sorry. Probably not making much sense on this tangent.
    anyway – yes, good post. Obedience important. discipline good. affirmation and love awesome.
    Toushka Lee recently posted..Sunday Selections – Parking in ChennaiMy Profile

    • “I guess we all try and improve on the example we have been given. But in doing so, we create an imperfect example of parenting for our children to improve on ‘ Oh my goodness yes!! So true, just so true!

  12. Well, I don’t smack my kids, I reason with them, and their are positive and negative consequences for their behaviour. And sometimes, for good measure, my three kids know they have to just damn well do something ‘because I said so’. These things are to be done quickly and without question, and they KNOW I will explain why later when there is time.

    THANK GOD I taught them this. On the 23rd of Dec 2011 (pretty recently, in other words), my partner discovered a fire starting in our house. He told me to get the kids out while he tried to see if he could it out (he couldn’t, so ended up getting out very quickly after).

    Now, I couldn’t think of a politically correct way to say this as I was pretty freaked out and just wanted my kids OUT. So, I looked my 3 beautiful children dead in the eye, and yelled firmly, in my ‘because I’m the mum and I said so’ voice, ‘ GET OUT!! GET OUT NOW!! GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT! Go, go, GO! Not fast enough! Get your arses out that door and stand out the front! HURRY!’

    And you know what? Because I am strict with them, and they know they are EXPECTED to behave when I have a certain voice and a certain look in my eye, bless their hearts, they got their arses out of there and they did what they were told. And most importantly, we’re all still here, unharmed, to tell the tale.

    I am a gentle parent. Not in the way that is spoken about on the net, with babywearing and co sleeping, and hugging through tantrums. I love them gently and ferociously too. I am a strict parent, and in the past have been judged for that. But after that fire, no one, NO ONE, will ever have me doubting the way I do things, ever again.
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  13. Both my husband and I utterly failed at the discipline and obedience parts of parenting, because neither of us wanted to be the “bad guy”. Now we live in fear, because when our kids run down the street and we yell “STOP !!” in a loud and commanding voice, they completely ignore us and continue on, and we seem to have very little control over them. They are 6, 5, and 4, and if I could go back to their baby days, I’d do things very differently. We are trying to exert some control now, but of course they are resisting big time.

  14. I’m totally with you, Lou. My girls have always been disciplined and I believe that they are better people for it. We believe that we want our girls to be caring, capable and courageous and learning right from wrong is a part of this. They stuff up, as do we, but they always know that they are loved and respected. In saying that, Miss 13 is entering a whole new era of her life and is just beginning to exert some more independence of action and thought, a new challenge in itself for us. Mostly, however, she makes good decisions and knows where we stand on issues, helping her to work out what is right. Keep up the good work, Lou.

  15. This is what I think. God commands children to obey their parents, therefore if I do not help my children to obey me, I am teaching them that it’s ok to disobey God, which it is not.

    Up until the age of about 5 or 6 I think it is a parents responsibility to establish in the child’s mind the patents authority. They need to know who is the boss. Over the next few years, the parent begins to move away from a vertical relationship, towards a horizontal relationship. By creating good relational opportunities and being a good role model, I believe children grow to be responsible teenagers. I think if you have done the hard work during the early and tween years, you can have beautiful, responsible teenagers, and later, best friends.

    But that’s not a conventional opinion.
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    • That’s really interesting Jess – I’m not sure about the parents as friends model though, certainly not in the younger years (though I realise you aren’t talking about that) – it’s something I think about. I’m really close to my parents but I wouldn’t say it’s a friendship relationship. The way I think about it is I can only have 1 Mum, noone else can do that role so if Mum isn’t my mum but my friend then…? Does that make sense? But then, I think it’s probably because the parent-child friend examples that I’ve seen in adulthood haven’t been overly healthy…

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