Do We Like Obedience?

The Devil Needs No Horns (October 2012)

‘The Devil Needs No Horns’ (Photo credit: skippyjon)

How important is it that our children are obedient? This from Annalisa Barbieri in the Guardian:

Most parenting books are about how to get children to do things well. By well, read obediently. When and how you – the adult – want them to do something: eat well, pee in the potty, sleep well (that’s the big one), behave well. The aim, it would seem, is to raise compliant children. Because, according to these books, obedient children = successful parents, disobedient = head hanging failures. But actually is an obedient child cause for concern or celebration? The more I thought about it, the more intrigued I became by this question. Telling someone their child is obedient is (usually) meant as a compliment. But an obedient adult? Not quite so attractive is it? We have other words for that, doormat being one of them.

Alfie Kohn, author of ‘Unconditional Parenting. Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason’ says, “When I ask parents, at the beginning of my lectures, what their long term goals are for the children, I hear words such as ethical, compassionate independent happy and so on. No-one ever says mindlessly compliant.”

A compliant child becomes a particular concern, Kohn admits, when they reach adolescence. “If they take their orders from other people, that may include people we may not approve of. To put it the other way around: kids who are subject to peer pressure at its worst are kids whose parents taught them to do what they’re told.”

A very young child isn’t actually meant to be obedient all of the time, according to Roy. This is because their needs are often completely at odds with an adult’s. See that lovely wall you’ve just painted in £100-a-pot paint? That’s just one lovely big, blank canvas to a two-year-old with a contraband crayon, who doesn’t understand why you praise them so much for drawing on a piece of paper but shout at them for drawing on the wall. You think it’s a cold day and want to wrestle a woolly pully over your child’s head but actually the child isn’t cold and doesn’t want it. Imagine going to a friend’s house and you accidentally spill a drink and get shouted at, instead of them saying “oh don’t worry” and mopping it up. And yet…

There seems to be a real fashion for taming children and the reason seems to be fear: it’s not that most people are worried about one incident of wall-scribbling, but that they seem to fear what this behaviour will turn into if it’s not kept in check, as if all children are just waiting to grow up into sociopaths. One of the comments I get a lot, at the end of my columns for the Family section of the Guardian (when I have advocated understanding and a more what would be called ‘softly softly’ approach to a child) is something along the lines of ‘they’ll turn into a monster if you don’t put your foot down/show them who’s boss’.

“It’s not based on empirical evidence,” argues Kohn. “It’s a very dark view of human nature.”

So how important is obedience? This is a live debate in my head. And now out loud on the blog, hopefully!

On one hand, self-control is a key skill I want SBJ to learn over time, so he can flourish. In one of my favourite parenting books, Welcome to your Child’s Brain, the science journalist authors have a chapter on what behaviours and characteristics have been shown to be correlated with resilience and success in life (not doing drugs or crime, not being unemployed etc). It’s on loan or I’d quote it, sorry. But what stayed with me were the findings after meta-analysis. Empathy and self-control were the only two things that made a significant difference, which I found a useful addition to my thinking.

Learning to do what someone else tells you to (brush your teeth, get ready for school, put that down) whether you feel like it or not seems a pretty similar skill to learning to do what you know you sort of want to do and ought to do (study, do housework, make the important but daunting phone call), but sort of can’t be bothered to. Perhaps learning to turn one into the other is an extra step though.


angel (Photo credit: JesseBarker)

On the other hand, I have really enjoyed reading two of the Love and Logic books that I mentioned in the pocket money discussion. In this parenting philosophy you don’t force your kids to do anything, really. You give them lots of opportunities to think things through for themselves, make their own choices, and live with the consequences. I’ll re-copy the classic example from Parenting with Love and Logic that is the foundation for all that they say:

It was a frigid Colorado evening, and my (Foster’s) family was heading out on an errand. Gathered at the door, my wife asked our six-year-old son, “Andrew, do you want to wear your coat?”

He said, ‘No, I don’t need my coat.” He was wearing a T-shirt. Modeling responsible adult behavior, my wife said, “I’m sure glad I’m wearing my coat.” Then she put on her coat, and the family got into the car.

Two blocks from home, muffled sounds came drifting from the beackseat – the unmistakable sounds of shivering and teeth chattering. My wife said, “Do I detect goose bumps in the backseat?”

“Y-y-eah-h-h!” Andrew stuttered. The next words spoken were some of the wisest ever to passs from Adnrew’s lips: “N-n-n-ext time, I’m g-g-g-oing to wear my c-c-c-oat!”

“Oh, honey, that sounds like a good idea.”…

Had my wife said, “Wear your coat. It’s cold out,” Andrew probably would have said, “No.” And she would have said, “I’m your mother, wear your coat.” Then Andrew would have been sitting in the backseat, warm as toast, hating her, and not learning a thing.

This chimes much more with how our parenting of SBJ is unfolding. We have turned out to be parents who stand back and let him figure things out, mostly with physical exploration at this stage. I suspect we will want him to do the same in other arenas as he grows, and learn for himself when following our advice and examples is a good plan (the mother in the example above doesn’t just hope Andrew will think of wearing a coat himself, she prompts him and models coat-wearing, stopping just short of forcing a coat on him).

And yet. I do really want him to be able to obey in a dangerous situation. If I yell ‘stop!’ at a busy road, I want to know he will stop. Is that just something that in this latter approach comes a little later, when he’s more a creature of reason, or is it a different category altogether and we can eat our cake and have it too?

As much as the Guardian writer looks down on parents wanting their children to be obedient for its own sake, who wants to be the parent of the kid in the playground who won’t follow instructions or requests? To be fair, the Love and Logic approach is not at all just-let-them-do-what-they-feel-like, but about providing meaningful consequences so kids learn for themselves to do what you could otherwise just make them do. I guess they’re aiming for self-discovered obedience, or obedience by a more circuitous route, that is more helpful in the longterm.

You can see from my circles of arguments that I don’t quite know what I think or what to do. You will have a range of approaches and opinions, and I’d love to hear them!

Remember to tell us why your approach Works For You without implying that other ways will lead children straight to jail, though, right? It’s all part of the patchwork parenting process (aka me stealing your good ideas. Ta!)

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43 comments on “Do We Like Obedience?”

  1. Anna G Reply

    Not quite sure how this fits in but as this seems is a live debate will add this thought. When teaching teenagers one useful behaviour management strategy I adopted was to give a student two choices. These had to be carefully considered before being voiced but the idea was that the result of either choice would have an outcome that allowed me to get on with my job, teaching. By offering 2 options the student hopefully felt they had a say in the matter and more often than not they would make the choice that resulted in a reasonable consequence. For example, would you like to move to this seat over here (away from distraction) or to Mrs X’s class? I guess where I am going with this is that as Miss 1 gets older I hope to use a similar strategy to negotiate with her, give her options and help her learn to make responsible rather than obedient decisions.

    • not a wild hera Reply

      Thanks, Anna!

      That’s exactly the strategy at the core of the Love and Logic books. Pick two options, both of which you are ok with.

      With pre-schoolers, it’s a big sneaky and clever: do you want to wear your coat or carry it and see how long you can last? Both result in the kid taking the coat!

      They also say that with young kids in particular, if you give them lots and lots of two-choice decisions, about all sorts of things that go on in their day, when you have to decide something for them, they can see the fairness in it and are more likely to go happily: ‘You got to make lots of choices today. This one is my choice to make. We’re going home in five minutes.’

      • Georgie Rynhart Reply

        The two choice strategy is all very well, but doesn’t work particularly well for us. We are blessed with a strong willed 4 year old, who when given the choice between A and B will attempt to choose C or D. Every time. So she would both not want to wear the coat or carry the coat, and is stubborn enough to follow through without backing down, or admitting we were right. And if there is a loophole that she can find to sort of back down without actually looking like it or losing face, she will.

        I can see that she is going to turn into a strong and confident young lady that won’t be swayed by the crowd, but at the moment it is sheer frustration when all you want is for her to brush her teeth so we can get to school and kindy on time!

        • not a wild hera Reply

          Oh, Georgie and Daina, I feel for you!

          Is there anything helpful you can share about what works well for you guys? Or are you, shall we say, in the middle of figuring that out?

          • Daina

            Ha ha, still figuring here! I am told that they grow out of it somewhat, hopefully I am still sane by then!

          • Georgie

            Yep, still figuring it out here too – although counting to 3 with the consequence of time out works sometimes to prompt a response (but never well enough when you are in a hurry, and it always has to be with my very grumpy hat on or it gets ignored). And then sometimes she puts herself in time out when she knows she has overstepped the line . . .

  2. Jason Preater Reply

    I agree with this. It is saddening when you see parents having arguments with their children over issues that are frankly unimportant. As parents a large part of our role is to help our children towards independent adulthood. Having said that, I live in Spain where a lot of my “rational” ideas are tipped on their head and I have had to accept that there is a kind of beauty to large co-dependent families that in my Anglo Saxon sensibility have seemed quite neurotic!

  3. SKATERAK Reply

    I was told by a pre-parent once that I should never use the reason “because I said so” for telling my boys to do something. I disagree. I have said those words many times, and probably will again. I did also tell him to come back in four years time when he had his own children to see if he still felt the same way. 🙂

    Allowing children to suffer the consequences of their choices is important and difficult. It involves bother parents, if possible, to be equally on board. It also requires, I believe, a lot of communication with the child so they know what is going on. They’re not being neglected by being sent outside to play in -12 with only socks and a toothbrush. They are being trusted. Whenever I’ve let my boys make choices which I didn’t think were the wisest, and I’ve been proven right, I’ve tried to give them a chance to get it right very soon. I feel boys, especially, need to know that we trust them. So what if they put too much salt on their cornflakes? The need a chance very soon after to get it right. Perhaps they could put the right amount on my cornflakes. I want them to know I trust them to get it right the first time, and if they don’t the second time (or third) will also do.

    Letting children experience the natural consequences of what they do removes the need to lecture, nag, holler and so on. One trap some fall into is to bring out an “I told you so” or one of its countless variations. That’s a sin.

    Children don’t like to fail so when they come inside shivering from a lack of coat or hungry because they couldn’t eat their cornflakes they need a huge cuddle, up to 10 seconds, and a chance to get it right very soon. I reckon anyway.

    • not a wild hera Reply

      This has been echoing all day for me since I read it. Thanks, Skate 🙂

      I really, really like your emphasis on kids needing a chance to get it right, and the consequences not being about making them look or feel stupid. This is profound.

      Agreed on the I told you so. Gotta work hard on biting them back sometimes and think of the long game!

  4. Rochelle Reply

    I find us described in all of the parenting styles discussed above. For the most part, we give our kids two options and let them choose… but do believe that my kids need to do what I say, when I say it and that I’m not going to have a 10 course discussion over every request – for me, that’s the road to death by frustration. I also strongly believe that kids need to know when their behaviour is not appropriate or acceptable and they only learn this by being told.

    There’s really interesting research about children’s decision making processes and the fact that even quite young children are able to make good decisions when given good information. I’m not quite sure what age this starts at… From my own children, I feel like somewhere between 3 and 4… but, to be honest, I don’t have the energy to have a 10 minute conversation about every request / decision so I use this approach with discretion 🙂

    Our big girl (4) is very articulate and is developing strong negotiating skills (aka arguing). The challenge for me is managing letting her negotiate decisions that affect her and actually getting the things that need to be done, done! Similarly, I think she needs to learn when a decision is final (“No, you’re not having ice-cream for lunch”). It’s a constant balance for us and sometimes we get it right and sometimes we don’t…

    • not a wild hera Reply

      Sounds like you’re doing a Brilliant and Amazing job!

      I like hearing that you can mix things up and it works out – you don’t need to have a purist philosophy. I guess kids can deal with nuance pretty well, and can put different experiences in different categories.

      • Alex Reply

        Absolutely, and I think this is a really important point, entirely consistent with the patchwork approach. Like Rochelle, I understand that it is important to give my two choices about things that affect them and don’t matter too much to me. So I generally let them choose what to wear, if they want to, and sometimes what we have for lunch (within reason!) – sometimes I make that a restricted choice between two or three equally good options, and sometimes I just give them free rein. Other times it has to be my way. For instance, if we need to get to pre-school at least vaguely on time then we cannot afford to have a half an hour discussion about why they need to put their shoes on; they just do.
        I am not sufficiently relaxed yet to let them go out without a coat if I think one is necessary, although I appreciate the wisdom and logic behind that approach – at least, not if we’re going away from the house; I will sometimes let them go without in the back garden, safe in the knowledge that they can change their mind quickly and easily.
        I have agonised long and hard about the importance of consistency (with this, and with many many other parenting questions and decisions) and I am slowly letting myself come to the conclusion that it doesn’t seem to matter as much as some people would have us believe. My mum once wisely said when I was beating myself up about my inconsistent approach to something inconsequential that seemed massive at the time (I can’t even remember what it was now!): “you love them to pieces, they know that you love them – that is enough”. Obviously, clarity and boundaries etc are important, but I honestly don’t think a rigid consistency of approach is a necessity. Children are remarkably resilient and adaptable, and as you say are pretty good at dealing with nuance – which is just as well, really!

    • Caroline Reply

      I was going to write my own post, but find myself agreeing with Rochelle, so I’ll just add my support to what she said! It is a balance and a constantly moving target as they find new ways to negotiate and “express” themselves.

      • Rochelle Reply

        Thanks Caroline 🙂 Was thinking about this thread even before I turned on my computer… Today I need obedience. Negotiation is not on the table. And I think that is just how parenting is sometimes. I have more thoughts to add to this that I’ll add to Angela’s honest and thoughtful post.

  5. Daina Reply

    The answer is yes we do like obedience. Not necessarily mindless ‘yes Mum’ to everything we say as soon as we say it (although I wouldn’t mind trying that out for a few days…) but because we have proven ourselves trustworthy to make good decisions on their behalf. I don’t want to have a huge debate about the reasons I have asked for a particular something to be done, but I am happy to negotiate on some things too. I don’t think that a small child has to bear the whole burden of being responsible for making heaps of decisions, it is just something that we can introduce gradually as the age/personality of the child dictates (and yes I do love giving them two pre-approved choices). Like everything around here, we are striving for some kind of balance between a child-led and parent-led dictatorship. Using the drawing-on-the-wall example, Mr 4 can now use crayons unsupervised if his younger brothers are not around. His younger brothers do not use crayons unsupervised, we draw together and then pack them away together. When Mr 3 has learnt sufficient self-control then he too will be allowed to get them and use them himself, but I have saved myself lots of wall cleaning in the meantime by ensuring they are inaccessible. If Mr 4 does have a wall-drawing episode then he will lose ‘crayon privileges’ for a while (after being set loose with a cleaning cloth to scrub the wall and failing to show how difficult it is to remove marks from walls). He soon learnt that it was better for him (& his drawing whims) to follow the ‘rules’ and be trusted with drawing on his own rather than spending his valuable time scrubbing walls or waiting for me to be available to draw with him.

    • Alex Reply

      ” I don’t think that a small child has to bear the whole burden of being responsible for making heaps of decisions” Yes, yes, and yes. Thank you.
      The age and personality point is a good one too. I am certainly finding myself allowing my daughter to make more decisions at an earlier age than I did with my son – possibly because I am a more relaxed parent second time round, but also in large part to do with her emerging personality.

  6. andrew Reply

    at its core, christian parents should be seeking for their children to be obedient as they are acting as representatives of the authority God has over all of us. not becase we are bigger, stronger, or control the remote control. we have delegated authority, and in rebelling against us, rebellious children rebel against the authority God has put in place.

    that’s (to me) the heart of why we should seek obedience. What things matter, and what don’t is another matter. something for individual judgement.

    for us, mealtime is somewhere that we show more leniency than my parents did. kids can have preferences with food. the politically incorrect parenting guy put it well in “hungry kids eat”. when we say “come here”, that’s something where we want instant obedience. you have to make allowance for if the child heard you or was distracted by something else, but for the sake of safety, they need to be relied upon to come when called.

    • not a wild hera Reply

      I guess I have a different take on the parents-as-models-of-Godly-authority point.

      I don’t see my parenting as primarily about that symbol, but about nurturing a whole and (holistically) healthy little boy so he can participate fully in God’s mission to redeem the world. So I’m not personally interested in obedience for its own sake, if there are reasons to think it is counter-productive to emphasise it.

      But I do definitely think there are plenty of ways of raising great kids!

      I too like Nigel Latta’s ‘hungry kids eat’ mantra, which helps me a lot when there’s five times more food on the floor than in SBJ’s belly.

  7. SKATERAK Reply

    Thalia, you really have collected a lot of great parents together through sacraparental. It is great to read the honesty and strength of the approaches these people use. As much as consistency is important (which it is) we can only be as consistent as the situation we are in. I am unlikely to get too grumpy if I need to call my boys twice for dinner instead of once, but if they are biking towards the road and I call ‘STOP’ they’d better! I agree with the thought that when our children know we love them, they accept our decisions better.

    There is nothing new about children wanting to argue or flex their muscles to get their own way. If we treat them with dignity and respect at these times, we can help them to learn that in life, the answer is ‘no’ sometimes. Those boundaries are extremely important. How can a child trust us to care for them if we feed them piles of unhealthy food, let them stay up as late as they like, allow them hours of screen time a day and finish it off with arguments? Simple, loving boundaries will keep our children off drugs (in most cases!), I am sure of it.

    It doesn’t hurt to offer an alternative when a ‘no’ is given. No, you can’t watch any more TV, eat any more cake, go and play in the rain or get all the paints out again.But, I’d love a game of snakes and ladders… 🙂

    • not a wild hera Reply

      I know, aren’t you all Brilliant and Amazing? What a rich conversation we’re having.

      Thanks for all your excellent, thoughtful examples. Keep going!

  8. SKATERAK Reply

    Let me add that I know some would argue that they need to learn to come to the dinner table (from my example above) pronto so that they are in the habit of doing what they are told the first time. I actually agree with this. But, with training, children also know the difference between a road and a plate of spaghetti. I usually just tell them that I’m starting to eat off their plates in 5…4…3…2….1 🙂

  9. Alex Reply

    I have a question for your patchwork parents with older children (although interested to hear from anyone) – how do you manage this in relation to school / teachers / other people in positions of authority?
    M starts school in September – just after his 5th birthday, so he’ll be one of the very oldest in the class. He is a very curious, inquisitive and interested little boy, but he is also very stubborn, willful and likes very much to be right. We’ve had a couple of occasions recently where he’s either openly contradicted his teachers at pre-school (about the number of planets in the solar system, of all things!) or completely refused to join in with the task they’ve set (most recently getting measured, height wise).
    I should stress that the teachers were absolutely fine with both incidents, and seem to find them amusing, if anything. They take a very “child led” approach to their sessions and never force anyone to do anything. My problem is with my own reaction – I find myself feeling embarrassed and apologising, and telling him (gently and at home) that he should really listen to his teachers… But I have a horrible feeling I’m in danger of squashing his spirit, and that’s the last thing I want to do. I guess it’s part and parcel of the “be good” vs “have fun” message discussed in a previous post (I’m sorry, I can’t remember which one now).
    Anyone out there have any advice, tactics (or reassurance) they can offer? Where is the line (is there one?) between respecting authority and embracing the spirit of inquiry? How can I teach him about context, and when it’s ok to ask, or do I just trust his teachers to tackle that one for me as they see fit?!
    (I was about to write that I am one of life’s rule followers and always toed the line at school, but then had a very vivid flashback to my campaigns for feminist equality at primary school (aged 6!) and realised that I must have been quite bolshy in my own way at some point, so maybe we’re not so dissimilar after all…!)

    • not a wild hera Reply

      Go Marcus! Bolshy is GOOD. It’s great that he’s thinking for himself!

      I think this will be a good topic to spin off into a separate thread, but I have one thought.

      How someone else responds and interacts with our kids is sort of not our business/problem/responsibility. Of course it is, as well, but I just mean that M and his teacher have a relationship that is outside your relationship with either of them, and it’s up to them to figure it out, with you being helpful on the sidelines.

      Maybe you could talk to the people in question to explain your feelings – mostly so you feel better understood, for your own benefit – but assume that other adults are big enough to decide how to interact with M in this kind of scenario.

      I’d also like to hear about your feminist campaign at primary school 🙂

      • Alex Reply

        Thank you. I think you’re probably right (as is my husband, who regards this as a complete non-issue). I have a feeling his little sister may be even more so inclined, so I’d probably better just get used to it.
        I guess the only place M (or Isabelle) will really be able to learn about group dynamics and classroom etiquette is in the classroom, so all I can do at home is continue feeding their enthusiasm (on the good days, when I can raise the energy, and don’t descend into exhausted exasperation at the millionth – or, today, the second! – question) and try what I can to encourage civility… At least if they’re going to question them, they can do it politely!
        On which point, if anyone has any tips for dealing with toddlers who are already starting to sound like teenagers (“oh muu-uum, it’s soooo unfair”) I’m all ears.

    • SKATERAK Reply

      Hi Alex, I’ve been thinking about what you’ve written, over the past few days. I’m a primary teacher as well as a parent on a boy who needs a little extra understanding, especially at school. I do understand, a little, your concerns.

      It’s always good to have a friendly and open relationship with your child’s class teacher. You never know when you’ll need a favour! Don’t be afraid to get to know him or her. Hopefully they will be kind and understanding to your son’s personality and find his strengths and work to these. Every single child has areas which require a little patience from the teacher – even the quiet little mice with perfect handwriting and exceptional manners. In my experience, the children who take most of my time and (forgive me) and bug me the most, are not the ones who fit your son’s description at all. Many teachers like the lively ones as they bring intelligence and character to the class. Their boisterousness is often managed with clear routines and good humour. I can’t speak for your son’s teacher, but I hope this will be the case.

      Again, don’t be afraid to speak with your teacher about your concerns. It’s like talking to a doctor about a mole on one’s bum. Doctors have seem a lot worse and a lot more embarrassing. A lively child is hardly anything knew or out of the ordinary for a teacher. It’s all in a day’s work!! Be prepared to step back a little bit from the situation, too. Try not to take any of their comments too hard or personally. Teachers do spend a long time with the children and see things that parents don’t and see a side of children which doesn’t always come out at home. I like to tease a couple of parents I have at present by telling them how wonderful their children are in class (which they are) because I know they are rotters at home!

      It’s only my view, but I don’t apologise for my son’s ways. From what I have read on here you are a remarkable mum so you have nothing to be apologetic for. I will thank his teacher regularly and generously for the hard work she puts into him. A school is a place of learning and children should be able to make mistakes in a safe and respectful environment

      I don’t know your husband, sorry, but he certainly has a good point. Maybe there is nothing to worry about. Let the teacher come to you if there is a problem. Hang back, at first. Give your son a fresh start at school and be ready to celebrate a lot of wonderful years to come when you see him develop in ways your never knew 🙂 Take good care.

      • not a wild hera Reply

        What a lovely, thoughtful response MB (not sure I can keep calling you SKATERAK). Thank you, and could you please write some guest posts from a teacher’s perspective? I have a list of topics!

      • Alex Reply

        Hi Skaterak,
        Thalia beat me to it, but thank you from me too for taking the time to a) think about my post, and b) to write such a considerate, wise and kind reply. It is very much appreciated.
        I look forward to your guest posts!

        • SKATERAK Reply

          What a shameful bunch of typos my reply turned out to be. Monkeys on typewriters could have done better. I blame the teachers.

  10. Angela Reply

    After reading so many wise comments, it sounds to me like obedience IS important, the question we each have to work out is when we require it. Perhaps there are many situations when we would automatically require obedience, but actually, it’s not necessary, and perhaps it’s even more important for the child to work their way through it. Knowing when to require obedience and when not to may require some forward planning, but also plenty of on-the-spot decision making. And perhaps even some conversations that go: “do this,” “no I don’t want to,” “well, OK, you try it your way.” I’m sure that’s alright.

    Lots of things have been said above that I really like, and I think I have a similar approach, when I can, to some of your readers, but there is one thing that hasn’t been covered. What about the consequences for ME? Unfortunately my decisions around when to require obedience, and what I demand of them, are not only based on their good, but mine! I’m tired, I’m sad, I’m angry, and often what I require comes from there. Yes I know it’s not the end of the world if we go out and you get cold because you didn’t want your coat, but if I hear one more round of whingeing today I will implode!!! Yes I am very keen on letting you take risks, but if you fall off that darn stool AGAIN, and I have to soothe you AGAIN, when I’m trying to COOK DINNER and we’re running LATE, I may just walk out the front door and never come back.

    It is my own weaknesses, my own shortfalls, my inabilities to parent in the way I may have wished that have sometimes made reading Sacraparental quite hard. There is often a huge gap between the way I would like to respond to these discussion topics, vs how I actually parent (funnily enough there was a long pause there while I shouted at Reuben. I never even knew I could shout until I had a toddler). Some discussions that I would like to have engaged with, because I was going to be really good at this stuff once, I have walked away from because I’m just trying to work out how to parent without a husband, how to look after my fatherless children while I’m packed full of anger and grief, and how to get through a day without shouting at them. What a treat to be able to consider the best way of parenting, as opposed to just not screwing it up too badly.

    However it occurs to me that almost all of us have probably found ourselves parenting in less than ideal circumstances. Perhaps not as extreme as mine, but even simply a total lack of patience, or that hideous beast of overtiredness mean we aren’t able to parent how we want to. I’m interested in how we manage that gap between ideal vs reality.

    • Caroline Reply

      I don’t think any of us lives up to our own ideals on a day-to-day basis. Theories are all very well until you’re face with two grumpy toddlers for hours at a time (lovely though they may be at heart!). As Alex says above, the most important thing is that they are loved – they know that even if (in fact, because) you spend the whole day trying to get them to allow you to change their nappy and put their trousers on because it’s freezing outside (not to mention any names E….).

    • Daina Reply

      I manage that gap between ideal and reality by going to bed and choosing to start again fresh in the morning Angela. I fail to live up to my ideals on a daily basis – I too was never a ‘shouter’ until I had children and the descriptions of feeling like you will implode or just want to walk out the door are very close to home! Tiredness, busyness, whinging and all those other things that affect us everyday will take it’s toll on all but the most saintly (and I am very far from that). God has loads of grace to forgive us when we are less than perfect, I struggle more wtih forgiving myself when I screw up. I am not perfect, my kids are not perfect and you know what? That’s OK! I am trying my best to get through today and hopefully I’m getting better at being a parent (slowly!). The single most important thing to me is that my kids know that they are loved (even if Mummy is pretty grumpy about it sometimes).

    • not a wild hera Reply

      Thank you for this, Angela.

      1) I really appreciate you saying all of this out loud.
      2) I have been thinking hard about it since this conversation and have started a new series in response!
      3) I have the privilege of seeing your parenting in action, often, and I’d just like to add in the feedback that you are doing an excellent job -not just an adequate one ‘in the circumstances’ but an excellent one. You habitually speak kindly and thoughtfully to your children, you put a lot of thought into their food, clothing, toys, books, safety, all sorts of things. And it shows. R is a *remarkable* little boy, and E is growing up so chilled out she must be Kent’s daughter.
      4) We love having you here.

  11. Caroline Reply

    I remember reading the original Guardian article when it first appeared & a lot of it has stayed with me in my parenting – I certainly don’t want to “crush” my children’s spirit with obedience and I think I’m probably too understanding when they are not obedient. But I also think that there are some serious non-sequiters in her article – I don’t think that an obedient child makes for an adult who is easily influenced by peer pressure – as an adult or teenager I think the child is more likely to remain obedient to their parent’s ideals or to the prevailing morals of society or their religion. Also, for me, a young adult with a strong sense of what is right may be more likely to stand up to their peers and to negative influences than someone who has never been given strict boundaries.

  12. Rochelle Reply

    I think you are so right, Angela – thanks for your honest comments. Certainly you clearly reflect the way that I find myself parenting. I’d really like to do lots of great things but I also need to do things that ensure that I don’t do completely mad and can keep being at least present, if not particularly engaged.

    I have also been thinking about this in the context of Thalia’s earlier email on safely and managing risk and I’m a great believer in letting my kids explore. But I *do* find myself saying ‘careful’ a lot. When I thought about it a bit, I realised that it is, frankly, because I am too tired and overwhelmed to put together any more thoughts and words than that. It’s all I can do to utter a one word warning… When I’m feeling ok, I can better manage these things and can put energy into more effective parenting. When I’m not, I just feel grateful if the little people make it through the day without serious injury. And maybe parenting is just like that? You do the best you can, when you can?

    • Angela Reply

      Yes I often think my goal is to raise my children to be kind, happy, wise, etc etc adults, but it seems my aim really is just for us all to make it through to bathtime relatively unscathed.

  13. Pingback: Making Parenting Easier #1 « sacraparental

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