249. Obedience

You probably already know this, but children don’t always want to do what we want them to do. They sometimes argue, procrastinate, or disobey. We may find these interactions exhausting, but ultimately they tend to be the ones to lose. We’re bigger than they are, and that can give us an advantage. We have control over the budget, the best means of transportation, food, and just about every aspect of their lives. But I believe that they have control over themselves, and they’ll only do what we want them to do if they decide to. So while they may lose privileges, they get to keep themselves.
It’s been a long time since I’ve been to a wedding in which one partner promised to obey the other. I think we’ve decided that the use of the word “obey” in that ceremony is inaccurate and demeaning. Marriage, in the part of our culture I’ve experienced, is not supposed to be slavery. There’s supposed to be communication, compromise, negotiation. Spouses tend not to give each other blind obedience.
And I don’t think we should require children to do what we say without thinking, either. Once (only once, I hope), I said to a child, “Never say ‘no’ to a teacher.” The child had refused to do a worksheet, and had triggered an authoritarian response from me. Luckily, the child responded, “My parents told me it’s important to be able to say ‘no’ to adults.” I was wrong; the child was right, and I apologized. I had already written a song for children about the importance of being able to say “no,” and yet I’d temporarily forgotten my own message.
Of course, refusing to do a worksheet causes problems in school, and after the embarrassing “no” incident, I did successfully negotiate with the child so that the worksheet got done. But I think I learned more from that interaction than the child learned by doing the worksheet. Though insisting on obedience was never a cornerstone of my teaching, until that
incident, it was still part of my repertoire; it was still possible for a child to get me to demand obedience.
Now, I hope I’ve gotten beyond that stage. There’s only one kind of situation in which I demand obedience from a child – when safety is at stake. In all other cases, I try to treat children as people who have the same rights I have. When I want a certain behavior from a child, I make no secret of it, but I treat all behavioral issues as interpersonal issues; if children want to get along with me, there’s some stuff they have to do. If I want to get along with them, there’s stuff I have to do, too. But I don’t have to give them blind obedience, and they don’t have to give it to me, either.

Comments are closed.