Thursday, November 03, 2011



I don't believe in obedience. At all. While it's nice when my children do what I ask, when they don't, I'm secretly rooting for them, "Keep up that fighting spirit. Don't give in when you think something is unfair!" And I often join their side.

But I know some of you, my readers, feel that obedience in children is a good thing, and I'll admit that it is nice when my children take my suggestions. These are the questions I ask myself:

When do I obey? When do I follow the instructions or advice of another person?

I think there are times that we obey other people out of fear. Thousands (tens of thousands?) of people daily take off their shoes when going through airport security out of fear that if they don't, they'll be called aside for who knows how long, miss their flight and be out $500. Fear and threats work. Over and over even. And I can try that as a parent, but just as I don't know many people who think of the TSA with endearment, I don't think a parent/child relationship based on fear is going to be very amiable.

So think of the last time someone suggested something to you and you did it: that new restaurant  you tried out, that suggestion at work your boss gave you, the medical advice from your doctor, the decision to put in a firewall or build a new roof on your house. Why did you do those things?

Because you trust the person who gave you the advice. You trusted them to have special knowledge or experience that would help you make a decision.

You want your children to obey you? Then you need to be trustworthy. Can they trust you to keep their confidence? Can they trust you to keep your cool when something doesn't go as planned? Can they trust you to be excited for them when something does go well?

Think of the people you don't trust: why is that? I know I have a hard time trusting people who use passive aggression, bribery, and other manipulation. If I want my children and other people to take my advice, then I can't be the person who manipulates. I need to be honest, I need to be forthright, and sometimes, I need to be vulnerable. I need to apologize when I'm wrong.

People revolt and protest when they no longer have trust in a person, organization, or value. That's why there are people on Wall Street right now. It's why that student in your science class ditches the lab period. It's why people walk away from political parties, religions, academic institutions, society in general.

Earning the trust of other people will do more for obedience than insisting on it. It's not going to get obedience 100% of the time, but I think it'll do lots of good.


  1. Very well put!

    A life shifter for me was when I learned about the difference between obedience and compliance. Obedience is, like you said, based on love, trust and respect. Compliance is doing something out of fear or simply being forced.

    Sometimes I insist my children comply. When one of them is hitting the other one, I don't sit there and appeal to her love of her sister or trust of me. I stop her and move her.

    But in most things and working towards the long term, I want obedience, because they trust me, which, as you said, means I have to be trustworthy. And looking toward the longer term, I am with you rooting for them to keep their spirit to stand for their values. Sometimes I am *wrong* and they are right not to obey, which forces me to take a good look at my own heart.

  2. This is a needed wake-up call for me. I am not at all disciplining Brayden the way I wanted to and planned when he was younger. I'm using bribery way too much, I'm raising more voice with stupid demands. Thank you for writing this. I think I need to reread LLL's guide to gentle discipline or pick up another like it.

  3. Love this, and it's so timely since I was just in a heated discussion about the "right" way to spank children and for what type of behavior. Spanking breeds fear. It may get the result a parent wants, but it doesn't make for a trusting relationship that will endure.

  4. Love this post!

    I hate it when people say a child needs to "obey" you. Obey is such an ugly word. I don't want them to do exactly what I say without a second though. I want to raise independent thinkers who will do something like stand up to a stupid rule. I try really hard to limit my "obey me" type situations to when she's in immediate danger (e.g. we do not walk in the parking lot without holding hands) and even beyond that, immediate SEVERE danger. I may nicely ask her to climb down if it's not an appropriate time, but most of the time dancing on the table is alright by me. :-D

  5. I couldn't agree more. I think the level of obedience that is sometimes expected of children stresses even more the problem of them being seen as unequal members of society.

    On a side note, do you disagree with anything the LDS church tells you and "disobey" their rules? There are many teachings/rules that seem to be a bit taboo to non-LDS members; do you follow all of these regardless because of your trust in the church, or do you ever question and do what you feel is right, even if you may alienate yourself from the rest of the church? You seem to be a very strong-minded spicy girl, so was curious your take on this.

  6. Anna- Inquisition Monday, I think. I keep writing and then unwriting my response.

  7. I love what Emily S said. Ditto her! Anyway, I've been pondering and am still pondering on this post and obedience in general. I think Emily's response helped me sort out my thinking a bit, but I'm trying to figure out a way to stop forcing my children to comply rather than encouraging them to obey on their own.

    When you first posted this I thought, That's ridiculous, life is all about obedience, why would you not teach (and by teach I mean expect the response you want and if not complied with inflicting punishment of some sort - in our house it's time out or losing a privilege) your children to obey.
    Then I realized just how wrong that response was (as I did laundry). Heavenly Father gave US free-agency. He's not forcing us to do his will, yes our actions have concequences, but he's not the great and terrible Oz.
    My thoughts on that aren't fully processed yet though. My testimony is but a tiny thing and I can't put into words what I believe yet.

  8. AbigailDawn- I've mentioned this on the blog before, but one of the biggest reasons I try not to lord over my children demanding obedience is that there is a line in my patriarch blessing that tells me to remember that my children are not my children: they are God's. It's a gentle reminder that I'm not any better than they are and we are to work together because we are equals. :) It takes practice though. My kids are sick today and I'm sort of losing patience with their clinginess, so yeah. Can't say I'm perfect, but I try. :)

  9. I read that post a few months ago and have been trying to keep that in mind! Sure my kids now have a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde mom, but it's better than the Mr. Hyde version they use to have after I stopped taking medication!

    Really, you teach me much. I am grateful that you share your viewpoints, they help me learn and grow.


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