Wednesday, December 28, 2011


I love when a blog post stirs up some discussion!  Yesterday's post on my new magic words learned from the Duggars (The first time I say it, you obey it.) ruffled some feathers.  I suspect (and hope) there will be more discussion today. 

I have to admit that 2-3 years ago, I bristled at the word obey, too.

Then I ended up with a daughter who has the defiant attitude practically perfected.

One commentor noted that to require children to obey means that the kids get a message that theirs wants comes second, that they don't matter as much.  Another said that obey is used for dogs and is such a strong word that she can't use it with kids.


I always like to grab actual definitions and not just the feeling of a word when I really dig in to understand it.

Obey- to comply with or follow the commands, restrictions, wishes, or instructions of: to obey one's parents.

That came from

Personally, I don't see anything wrong with that definition.  Obey means to follow the rules.  Obey means to meet expectations.  Obey means listening and following.

We have rules and guidelines- like most homes, I assume.

We also have kids that push limits- like most home, I assume.

In the past few months, there has been a slow increase down a hill that came to a head over the past few weeks leading up to Christmas. 

These kids of mine haven't been listening.  Jeff or I will ask or tell them to stop or to do something and they completely disregard what is being said.  Consequences haven't mattered or simply result in a child blowing up (usually the older one). 

(Ironically, as I am typing this, my kids were laying on the floor coloring.  Then one child got mad at the other and scribbled across the page of the other.  Scribbling child is now in "time out."  No talk of obeying anything since there wasn't a request just given but there was a family rule broken.)

We have basic family values.  1. Be kind to one another.  2. Be kind with your words, with your hands, with your face. 

Obedience isn't one of the tenets of our family foundation.

But there has been a problem brewing for a long time.  If I ask you to put away the toys, I do not expect to have to ask you 5 times.  If I ask you to not jump on the bed, I expect that you will not jump on the bed. 

When Jeff or I ask the kids to do something or to stop doing something, it isn't usually at a time when they are in the midst of doing something pleasant that they have chosen to do.  Trust me, if my kids are playing quietly or getting along nicely, I'm not about to disrupt that.  I'm not the kind of parent that is a "my way or the highway" type.

But if I ask you to stop jumping and hanging on my back- you need to respect my personal space and stop.  If I ask you to throw your trash away, I expect you to respect our home enough to pick up your dirty tissue and put it in the trash.   

I found a nice little rhyme that helps my kids realize that I'm serious when I ask for something to happen or for something to stop.  "The first time I say it, you obey it." 

Yes, there are times when I expect my kids to follow my wishes, to do as I instruct them, to follow rules, to do what they are told when they are told to do it.  I'd venture that most parents feel that way.  I've heard most parents complain at one time or another about their children not listening, not following directions.  It's one of those common concerns in the world of parenting- one of those complaints everyone has had at one point or another. 

I've got a strong willed 6 year old who has had a problem with bullying other kids.  This same child likes to simply "not hear" requests made by parents.  If it were a matter of her agenda or desires being squashed- I'm willing to evaluate that.  She has reached a point where she will truly flat-out disobey, simply to test boundaries.  Not because she is standing up for her cause or following her true desires.  I've walked a fine line with her for 2 years now- carefully choosing battles, trying to determine when to ignore, when to respond.

Maybe if she was an only child, it would be different.  I've wondered that so many times before. 

Maybe if my kids were simply of the personality types to be more docile, more cooperative, less strong willed, it would be different.

Maybe if I was a stay at home mom or we were a less busy family and did nothing much more than focus on just these 2 kids, it would be different.

But none of those Maybes suit us or our circumstances or these personalities. 

For now, we found something that works.  We found something that reminds our kids that the things they are asked to do are important things.  Bottom line is that there simply are times when we expect our kids to do what they are told, when they are told to do it.  Without being asked 20 times, without arguing with us about why or what or when, without fights erupting or meltdowns ensuing.   Obedience is necessary in the world.  If I choose to not obey my boss at work, there are consequences.  If I choose to not obey laws, there are consequences.  Teaching my kids about obedience and about when obedience is necessary is appropriate.  And there will also be times when my kids will be taught that disobedience is appropriate (those lessons are already ongoing- when a grown up asks you to do something that is against the rules, you are allowed to disobey that grown up, for example).

Obey isn't a bad word.  Obey isn't a negative word.  Obedience isn't just for dogs or trained dolphins.

(Someday I should write a post on the similiarities between dog training and child rearing.  Everything from reward systems to treats to clickers to discipline to time outs... they are more similar than you might realize.) 



Angie @ Just Like The Number said...

I enjoyed your earlier post on the topic and the discussion surrounding it. My ears perked up at the phrase and I thought it might be something I would use around my kids as well - not often, but as a reminder that some things are not requests or suggestions, but actions that need to be taken immediately.

One thing I'd like to be better at balancing in the new year is how I expect them to respond when I ask them to do something vs. how I respond to them when they need something from me. I'm just curious (especially with the 9 y/o) how many times I expect her to do something the first time vs. how many times she legitimately needs something and I "in a minute" or "just a second" her.

I'm not saying her asking for breakfast and me reminding her to turn off the computer are the same thing, but I think the spirit of responding to the members of our family in an efficient, respectful way can go a long way to a creating a peaceful and pleasant environment.

Thanks for sharing, Liz!

Momza said...

We have a saying in our house:
"Do it Once, Do it Right"..same concept and it works! Carry on, I say!

Cherie from Queen of Free said...

"Make the wise choice" is our mantra. Ever heard the old Sunday school song "Obedience is the very best way to show what you believe"? Your post had me humming it. Helping our kids learn that obedience is a way to show their love for us as a parent and if you're endeavoring to raise them a faith, a love for their Creator too. We also use the verse Ephesians 6:3 - If you honor your father and mother, things will go well for you, and you will have a long life on the earth.

Alison said...

lol, I didn't realize this post was up until I commented on the earlier one.

Frankly, I'm ok with kids being taught that their desires are secondary to their parents'. Children are undeveloped: they don't realize all the consequences of their choices and they are inherently self-centered (a natural psychological state conducive to their survival and rapid learning, not a judgemental opinion). So it seems perfectly logical that their impulses should be regularly limited by adults' needs and better judgement.

That is not the same thing as quashing a child's freedom, instincts or creativity. It is establishing certain absolute limits, which should change over time as the child matures.

If more kids were able to see that others' needs must--in some circumtances--come before their own, we'd have a lot fewer self-centered adults cutting each other off in traffic and pepper-spraying fellow shoppers.

(I've also found myself talking to my young niece and nephews in the same way I do my dog--though after about age 3, the kids left Rosie way behind!)

c3 said...

I agree with Flartus. Teaching children to obey is one step in process of teaching when to obey, and how to accept the consequences of their choices. It's part of teaching self-discipline how to be part of a greater whole.

Obediance isn't the be-all and end-all, but without it? Oh boy.

Rebecca said...

I say that as long as what you are doing is producing happy, well adjusted, well behaved children then take it and run with it and spread the good news.

Rebecca said...

I say that as long as what you are doing is producing happy, well adjusted, well behaved children then take it and run with it and spread the good news.

Katherine said...

I'm actually surprised that people have a hard time with the word "obey" used for children. I don't use it do diminish their needs or wants, but to guide them. When they are asked to turn off the TV or the computer and come to dinner, I expect them to obey. When I ask them to do their homework, I expect them to obey. It's my job as a parent to teach them rules, obedience, and yes, consequence for disobedience. It doesn't mean that we are slave drivers, that I ignore their needs, but that there are rules and reasons for the rules. If we can't teach them this inside the home, by someone who loves them, what chance do they have outside in the "real world."

Anne K. said...

IMO, people get too focused on "feel-good" parenting and become afraid to be firm or anything other than just nice. Here's the thing. We all need to learn obedience. It is a fact of life and it is biblical to the core. If we don't teach our children obedience, the world will and they won't be as nice about it as we are. Good for you for incorporating this word into some of your parenting. We do too, and I am not ashamed to admit it. My children are fully loved, granted much grace and mercy; yet the Lord appointed my husband and I to teach them. If we don't, *we* are being disobedient towards God. We love our children enough to train them up in the ways of the Lord. Obedience is part of that.

Garret said...

I'd just go ahead and slap a shock collar on those kids.

Oh, and I don't have any kids of my own.

Jenni said...

I think the big difference between my dog and my kids is that my kids are always allowed to ask "why" and I will answer them. Do they need to obey, yes. Sometimes they need to obey before I can give them the reason. But I will always give them a reason for why I've asked them to do whatever it is. And if I don't have a decent reason for asking, I will retract the request (and/or not make it in the future). I try to use my 'command' function sparingly. I try to ask them to do things rather than tell them...but if asking doesn't work, and the issue matters, then darn straight I will tell them to do it and they obey now or there are consequences.

Karen M. Peterson said...

I'm fully prepared to be criticized for my opinion since I don't have kids.

I think the reluctance some people have to use terms like "obey" is one of the things contributing to the unhealthy sense of entitlement many children are growing up with. As a previous commenter said, too many parents want to be kind to their children to the point that they sacrifice teaching them to properly control themselves. Children are not emotionally or mentally capable of handling complicated situations. They need to be taught. And a big part of that lesson comes through obedience. Moses was given the ten commandments for the people because they needed to learn to follow simple laws before they were ready for the bigger ones.