Tuesday, March 29, 2011

"Blatant Disobedience"

I would like to announce, first of all, the arrival of our little baby girl, Emma Grace, born March 16, 6 pounds 3 ounces. I will post her birth story soon.

I had an excellent question from someone regarding my last post, and I wanted to spend some time answering it here. Here is the question:  "If I could ask a question, what do you do when he blatantly disobeys, ie, runs the opposite way (or towards the street as happened yesterday) when told to come?" I love dialoguing with other mommies, so thank you for this question!

First off, I think that we as believing parents have been misled by many Christian teachers to believe that our children are not turning out unless, at the tender toddler/preschool years, they are "obeying" all of our directives. The reason I find this misconception frustrating is that the Bible urges children to obey their parents (Ephesians). When the Bible tells children to obey their parents, it tells them to obey their parents in the Lord. So, this command was written directly to children who are old enough to understand what it means, and furthermore, it was written to children who could obey "in the Lord," indicating that the children being addressed are believers. This command is not addressed to parents, or it would read as follows, "Parents, be sure that in all things your children obey you." When parents are taught that they should force their little children to obey them, it reminds me of men who are taught that since the Bible urges wives to submit, it is their God-given job to force their wives to submit to them! So, all that to say, our toddlers and preschoolers are in a learning phase...I believe that it is our job to teach them what obedience means on a day-to-day basis; to cultivate relationship with them that will invite obedience; however, I do not believe that we must require our tiny tots to obey us, or else.

So how does this play out practically? It means that, first of all, we stop seeing absolute obedience from our little ones as a requirement from them. Instead, we walk them through what we ask them to do, teaching them actively how to obey us. I don't want my little guy to run into the street, either, so I have done several things: always remain near him when I can tell he is distracted and may bolt across the street, playing a "stop!" game with him so that when he hears me say, "Aydon, stop!", he stops, teaching him a healthy fear of cars running into him by talking, talking, talking, teaching him to ask me before he does something. I really feel that when we issue some sort of "command" to our tots, we should be right next to them to enforce our command so that words have meaning, and obedience occurs, but in a proactive way, rather than a reactive way. A toddler will remember not to do something much better if we stop them in the act, then if we punish them afterward. One way, the focus is on the behavior we want to teach, the other way the focus is on the child's failure. Toddlers and preschoolers are just so impulsive. Requiring them to obey us and then punishing them when they don't, in my opinion, sets them up for failure; they will not always "obey" us, and when they get punished for not doing so, it makes them feel hopeless or angry. 

Another thing I think about is how God deals with us. I wish more parenting experts would teach parenting from this perspective. God invites us to obey Him through relationship, not through fear of punishment. He gives us the Holy Spirit, who empowers us to obey Him; He does not expect us to obey Him because a)we are afraid of what He will do to us if we don't or b) because we are obeying Him out of a sense of duty or obligation. He gives us the strength and the means to obey Him; He invites us to obey Him because of His great love for us.

So, do I require my little guy to "obey" me, or else? No. I view myself as his teacher, guiding him and helping him to obey. He is impulsive, he lacks logic, he lacks impulse control. So, when I require something of him, I am on hand to "help" him or to stop him from doing something I asked him not to do. Often heard in our house: "You need to pick up that cup." If he refuses: "Can you pick it up by yourself, or do you need help?" If he still refuses, "Mommy is going to help you," and then I get behind him, hold him in a safe bear hug, and "help" him comply. In this way, I am teaching him how to obey, and helping him to obey when he does not have the strength. I am being proactive, so the focus is not on him and what he did wrong, but rather on "this is how we obey." This is a lot of work, but to me it is sooooo worth it! Often, if he is not tired or hungry, little man happily complies with my requests. Sometimes, he needs help, and that is all right! How many times am I sending up a prayer, asking God to give me the strength to do what He is asking me to do?

I hope that this answers your question! I'd love to continue to hear any and all thoughts that you, my readers, have on these matters! I am so not perfect, just happy to parent in this way that keeps relationship with my child intact, and that teaches him who God is, and how He relates to us.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

So Thankful

I read this blog post by Sally Clarkson recently, and was so blessed and encouraged by it: http://www.itakejoy.com/first-time-obedience-really/. I love that she is an experienced mom who calls for us to be tender and loving and gracious with our children. I also love it that she has the full support of her husband.

My husband and I were talking about how wonderful it is to be able to parent our son in a non-adversarial, non-punitive way. We were laughing because our little guy has a real stubborn streak. I cannot imagine the awful battles of will that we would have to go through to "force" our son to obey us. Since we are on his team, we do not dread those times when we have to follow through with what we say. Here is an example: Little man was sitting at the table eating crackers beside his dad. He began to play with the crackers, breaking them into pieces. Suddenly, on a whim, he threw the pieces on the floor. "Uh-oh," said my husband, "we have to clean those up. When we make messes, we have to clean them up." My son's reply? "No! I don't want to. That makes me sad!" "Well," continued my husband, "I know it makes you sad, but we have to clean up messes when we make them. Would you like some help?" Little man at this point dug in his heals, refusing to budge from his chair. I walked over to him, picked him up out of his chair, and sat down with him on the floor beside the cracker pieces. I reiterated what my hubby had said about cleaning up our messes. At this point, little man threw a fit. I rubbed his back and held him. The fit lasted only a few seconds, and then little man sat up, and cheerfully began picking up all the pieces, handing them to his daddy, happy to comply. In the process of us helping Aydon to do what we said, none of us lost our dignity. We had no regrets as parents, because we did not lash out punitively at our son, neither did we back down. Aydon was able to decide to comply; he was not forced or backed into a corner (though he did have no choice, we were right there beside him, supporting him the whole way).

I cannot help but imagine this same incident if we were parenting "with the rod." I am quite certain that little man would do anything but comply if he felt that he was being forced to do something, or else. I cannot imagine the heartache and regret that we would feel after hitting him, harder and harder to try to force compliance. And in the process of trying to force little man to "obey" us, we would be provoking him to anger, something that fathers (and mothers) are commanded not to do in scripture.

Words cannot express how thankful I am for the multitude of ways in which God led us away from punitive parenting. It might take a little extra time to "help" little man comply with our requests, but it is worth more than gold to be able to remain on his team, to treat him with grace.