I am not raising obedient children…

by Kelly Bartlett on May 13, 2011

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...nor do I want to. Not that I would rather have disobedient kids, but…actually that’s closer to the truth. What?! (You say.) What crazy parent would want this?

To me, the word “obedient” has such a negative connotation when used in reference to raising children. It literally means to obey. As in, orders.

Is that what parenting is? Ordering our children through their youth? I guess it would be nice if my kids followed my orders just because I said so. Put your toys away. Eat this food. Find new friends. Date this person, not that person. Take this job, not that one. Have your first child by this date. Buy a house at this random location on the map, just because I said so.

If we are teaching our kids to be “obedient,” at what point do we stop ordering them around? And what if there’s a strong reason not to obey someone’s order? A “good child — one who is taught to be obedient — might not have the forethought to see a situation through.

I don’t want children who obey without hesitation. I want children who can think for themselves, recognize and listen to their feelings and instincts and respond appropriately.

What I mean when I say I’d rather my kids be “dis”obedient is really more like be deliberate. I want my kids to think about what they’re doing, assess the situations they’re in and make internally motivated decisions. I don’t want them to do things just because I said so — though I know that with the number and types of interactions I have with my kids at their current ages of 4 and 6 years old, doing things because I said so would certainly be nice sometimes. All of the questioning, reasoning, arguing and explaining I hear after a simple request does get time-consuming and tiring.

But I appreciate the thought my kids put into their explanations to not do something I ask. Raising non-obedient kids will become very important in several years when they are out alone — maybe with friends or maybe truly on their own; in either case, without parents — and must evaluate an emotionally or physically risky situation. They need to be able to recognize their feelings, appreciate the significance of those feelings, and trust their instincts to make a considerate and educated decision, a fitting decision — not an obedient decision.

Getting out of the mindset that children need to obey parents “because we say so” and instead developing a mutually respectful relationship that inspires independent thinking will be hugely beneficial for my kids and our family in about 10 years.  As aggravating as some situations at this point in time, I will gladly take this challenge on now rather than later.

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Kelly Bartlett (36 Posts)

Kelly Bartlett is the author of "Encouraging Words For Kids" and "Help! My Child is Addicted to Screens (Yikes! So Am I.)" She is an API leader and Certified Positive Discipline Educator in Portland Oregon.


{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Luray October 2, 2012 at 12:03 pm

I am not raising obedient children either…
…but I’m trying. Obedience should be a companion of gentle, loving teaching. We don’t “stop” ordering them around. We gradually lessen our instructions as they mature. A “good” child should be taught why to obey, when to obey and that if challenge to obedience becomes necessary (according to the truth of God, not the whims of a child) there will be support.
I don’t want children who obey without hesitation in every situation. I want children who can think, recognize the truth according to God’s word and respond appropriately. I’d rather my kids be deliberately obedient. I want my kids to know what God wants for them and how to reach it. Internally motivated decisions are dangerous for any of God’s children, young and old. I don’t want my kids to do things because I said so or because they said so. I want them to discover through my guidance that it is the best thing to do because God said so.
Applying one parenting style throughout all of any childhood is absurd. Children grow. They mature. They learn and apply what they have learned. As they do, parents need to constantly adjust how they exercise authority. If obedience in early years teaches what is “considerate, educated and fitting” for future use, that is a good thing.
“Because I said so” scarred a lot of us. But I respect my children enough to teach them that their own reasoning will not successfully guide them through life, there is wisdom accessible through the gift of parents, and that difficult natural consequences can often be avoided if you will just obey in the first place.

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shelby February 22, 2013 at 1:51 pm

So what you are saying is I don’t believe in teaching my children the word “no”, nor do I believe in teaching them to listen and mind me, there teachers or other people of authority i.e. child care providers, grandparents, the law, there friend’s parents….
I can understand that you want your children to be able to think for themselves. But at the same time they need to learn to obey you and others, to follow the rules, and laws. My biggest question is: So I don’t want my kids to be obedient, So does that mean that they still need to be respectful to me and others around them?
Just a general comment not by any means trying to be rude but do your child’s teachers really like having to deal with your children. Because from what I am understanding is that you don’t care if your children listen to you. So your children are going to get the idea that since mom and dad don’t make me mind them then they will take that to school with them and they won’t mind there teachers. This is something that they will take with them there whole life, so does this mean that they don’t have to obey the law as well?

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Kelly Bartlett February 23, 2013 at 9:11 pm

shelby, that’s a very good question. It’s not that obedience doesn’t exist in our house, it’s that it’s not the *goal* of our parenting. Our goals are to create and maintain connected, secure relationships as well as to meet the physical and emotional needs of our children. That said, when children’s needs are met and they have a trusting, securely attached relationship with their parents, they are much more willing to follow their parents’ lead: Kids want to be “good” for those to whom they are attached. So, secure attachment is always our primary goal, and from there we use positive discipline to teach appropriate behavior, self-control, respect, problem solving, etc…on an ongoing basis. But our approach to discipline is never about simply being obedient. It’s a more proactive, long-term approach that is relationship-based.

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Olivia February 25, 2013 at 6:56 pm

My goal is definitely not to raise obedient children. Obedient children learn to please those around them at the expense of their selves. I want to raise authentic children who have the confidence to trust and follow their own inner knowing. I work on sitting with my own discomfort when this contradicts everything society has taught us about “right”. It’s a journey to open and question conditioning. My children want a good relationship with me and that is their motivation (it is definitely not anarchy in my house although my definition of anarchy may differ to yours), rather than fear, but nor do I want it to be about pleasing me. Here’s an article that partly explains why http://www.parentingforsocialchange.com/giving-up-power.html and http://www.ahaparenting.com/parenting-tools/positive-discipline/strict-parenting and see also purejoyparenting.com. You write with the apparent assumption that deference to authority is always a good thing but I disagree with this. Children raised with the goal of obedience and deference to authority are very vulnerable. Vulnerable to being bullied, vulnerable to being abused, vulnerable to being unable to speak up for their selves when it matters.

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KG August 3, 2013 at 11:30 am

i was an obedient child. i was so focused on being good, which meant what my parents and teachers thought was good, that i never really figured out how to be in a loving relationship that doesn’t require doing what the other person wants.

it’s ruining my adult life.

my spouse does not want an obedient partner, but i don’t know how else to behave. this way of being in the world is so ingrained. if i know my spouse wants something, i have a very hard time not changing what i’m doing to be more accommodating. i do it all the time and it’s making me resentful and scared.

some days i don’t want to be alive anymore. i’m better off alone, at the very least. when my spouse finally can’t take it anymore and leaves to find someone who’s not so terrible at staying true to themselves, then i’ll be able to live alone, which is probably the only way i can truly be healthy. if i let other people get too close to me, i lose my entire self, my goals, and personality. it’s an awful thing to be like me. i don’t wish it on others.

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Say As It Is January 16, 2014 at 8:26 am

For the past 30 years of my existence, I was an obedient child. Was, because not anymore. My parents used to stay these stuff – study hard, be smart, books first before boys, either be a doctor or a lawyer, a stable career is your ticket to success, having a spouse and a kid is more of a liability than an asset, etc. etc. All these stuff I was made to believe. However, they failed to point me out one important thing – how to be happy. Yeah, I have achieved more than an ordinary, but certainly it didn’t guarantee my happiness. And it’s just sad. I don’t blame my parents though, but I should have exercise my very own common sense and determined for myself my own reasons (selfish they may be) my necessities for happiness.

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Samantha M. July 7, 2014 at 10:51 am

My husband and I are expecting.. thanks so much for sharing this, we are both really anxious of our child’s education, I know it’s too soon to think of that but as a mom you just want the best and nothing but for your young ones.

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john February 24, 2016 at 5:02 pm

I’d second the idea that children with their needs met and have a secure relationship are more willing to follow their parents. Well said.

My 2 year old daughter is obedient not out of fear or intimidation but because she wants to be or the reasoning of ‘why’ makes sense to her. I am not a general and she is not a soldier. I tell her what I want of her and what we cannot do, explain the ‘why’ and give her time to accept it (which often requires repetition and a few minutes of time). Whenever possible I give her options so she can pick which option she wants to do or one of a few ways to solve the problem. She will comply 99% of the time. If she understands the reasoning, so much the better. She is learning consequences, critical thinking and problem solving. If she does not understand the reason she can sense the concern in my voice or at least complies because she has learned to trust me and my intentions. I do not abuse the ‘no’ or ‘do this and do that’. This has been established since she was a baby. Unfortunately I do not have room to give examples.

Contrast the above with her mother’s approach: bark orders and repeat them, each time more furious, demanding blind and absolute obedience ‘right now’. Nobody likes being treated like that nor should they. If it was your boss treating you in that manner it would be humiliating. If it was your spouse it would be labeled ‘abusive’. A child feels no different. I prefer that my daughter is not accustomed to being treated in that manner. The most she can learn from such a parenting style is ‘You do not need to understand why. Do not think on your own. You will be threatened and humiliated until you comply and there is no other option’. Treating a child like that 50 times a day, are 50 opportunities lost to teach them something useful.

This is not to say a child can do whatever they want or there are always options. There are other concepts they must learn like ‘I help you, you help me” and “You have responsibilities”. It is hard to make yourself do something you really do not like to do. It is ten times as hard for a child that is still living ‘in the moment’ and following compulsions. Take that into consideration when you tell a child ‘pick up your toys’ and frame it in a good way.

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