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.


  1. Hi Carissa,

    Congratulations on the birth of your daughter!!

    Thank you for another excellent post. It's good to read how other moms put grace-based discipline into practice.

    I direct a nonprofit site for women: www.PositivelyFeminine.org. We are currently looking for someone to write a grace-based parenting column on an every-other-month basis. If that's something you'd be interested in, you can learn more here: http://www.positivelyfeminine.org/contribute.htm or email me: Brenda(at)PositivelyFeminine.org. I know you're busy right now with a newborn, so if you are interested but would like to wait several months, let me know. That wouldn't be a problem. I really appreciate your thoughts on parenting, and would love to have you join our team.

    I apologize for posting this here, but I wasn't sure how else to contact you.

  2. Here goes the third time I've tried to respond to this post. :) I rarely get to write emails, and the first 2 were rejected and erased by the computer. But I think that's kind of ok, because now i can report on a longer term review. We have been following the grace-based method for 1.5 months now, and the change has been amazing. My daughter is happier and more obedient. Who knew that giving up spanking would make her MORE obedient? She responds quickly and happily to my requests. We go for days, even up to a week without a meltdown, and when she has one I know it's because I have pushed her too far (she is tired, or hungry). Meltdowns are handled with compassion and sympathy instead of imapatience! We enjoy our days together so much more and I love feeling like her coach, coming alongside her, helping her. It is so natural for this attachment parenting mama. :) Peace now reigns in our house.

    Thanks so much for your blog. I love the books and blog of Sally Clarkson, but you helped me see what it would look like for my family in real, everyday situations.

    I also love how it has made me think about how God treats us. I heard a pastor say recently that our ability to show grace is related to our experience of receiving grace. Parenting this way has made me think on how I receive grace, and made me rejoice in the abundance of grace and love in our Heavenly Father. Our daughter's name is Karis Grace, "grace, grace!" and how lavishly it has been poured out on us!

    We have 2 girls, 3 and 1.5. The little one is still sweet and perfect but I am so happy to be ready for her to hit 2!! I hope you're enjoying those sweet days with your little one, and I want you to know I am profoundly grateful for your blog!! Happy Mother's Day!

  3. Dear Sami,

    I am so so happy to hear that I have helped to free a fellow mommy from unnecessary parenting burdens! Praise God! I totally agree with you as far as seeing God's grace towards yourself in a whole new light...every day, as I parent through the eyes of grace, I see God's incredible, forgiving love for me manifested in new ways!

    Blessings to you and to your sweet girlies!!