First-Time Obedience and Other Parenting Issues That Have No Quick Fix

Dear Kendra,

I have three girls, a 5.5, 2.5, and an 11-month-old. My girls are good, but I have not been consistent with the first time obedience and things are frustrating around here. I was encouraged by your remarks on teaching obedience before school stuff and we will be officially starting that soon. I went to the Godly Tomatoes site and thought that all made sense and could be done. And I spent time in the Word, studying what God has to say about discipline. It is pretty clear He expects it. So I set out to "stake them" and had a few good days where I was really able to stay ahead and those were great days. But then I am not consistent for a second, it seems, and we are back to the beginning. I am just pretty discouraged.

I know you don't know me and if I knew anyone around me that was doing this with their kids, I would be right there talking to them about it. But I don't know any families that are requiring first time, every time obedience, and I guess I am looking for a little encouragement. I wonder if you started requiring first time obedience from the beginning with your kids or if there was a time when you realized things weren't as good as they could you have different expectations of a two-year-old in training (like when they get distracted with a toy, would you remind them to come if they were in the process of getting to you or would they get the swat then for not obeying?) I don't want to be a mean old dictator, but I feel like if I say it, they should do it. I know they are capable for the most part.

Alicia B in MO

Hi Alicia-

We took a popular parenting class early on in our parenting that ruined us in one aspect. The course communicated that if we just did A, B, C, and D, our children would be virtually trained and perfectly behaved by the time they hit six.  *snort*

I remember having a young woman in my home after our fourth was born and I was whining to her about how much I repeat myself to the then 6, 4, and 2-year-olds.  She being one of ten children wisely said, "Oh Kendra!  It's precept upon precept".  Yes. It is.  And so we say things over and over and over during their short childhoods.  Over and over.

But.  We do train them to respond immediately, and not because we want to be dictators, but because God does require children to obey their parents.  Period.  He is wiser than we are, and we as parents are wiser than our children are.  They need to trust us and obey us.

There's the complimentary part to first-time obedience: trust. If we are loving on our children, responding in kindness, patient, and joyful, they will be trained to obey us out of their trust of us.  That comes with a little time and experience, though, so in the earliest years, they do need to be trained to immediately obey.

I like to set up training opportunities, and typically one of the first training sessions is when we teach a little guy to come to us.  The older kids and I will sit in a circle and call the little one to us, one by one.  When I say, "Come to Mommy!" and the little guy obeys right away, we all cheer.  Then another child will say, "Come to me!", and we all cheer again when the little one obeys.  It's fun training, and it pays off.  A child that will come right away when called by his family is a safer child.  I always cringe when I see a child bolt after being called by his mother in a public place.  Inevitably the child laughs, the parents laugh, and then that little one is consequently trained to be disobedient. And run into danger, as the case may be.

I don't want to discourage you, but I do see disobedience rear its ugly head every once in awhile in my older kids, too.  Seems sometimes the will to do as they please overtakes their desire to obey.  That sounds vaguely familiar, doesn't it? Remind them of the Gospel, of God's forgiveness and grace. Let the Gospel do the "heavy lifting" in their hearts.

"For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do."  Romans 7:15 (written by Paul, of course.  He was, incidentally, an adult when he wrote this.  Let's not expect more from our children than we do of ourselves.)