Thursday, 19 January 2012

Who wants an obedient child?



Last week a small miracle happened in my household.  It went like this:  I told the girls that they could watch telly before supper (the end of UP as it happened) and if it hadn't finished before supper they could watch the end of it afterwards.  But that if it had finished we'd go straight upstairs after supper.

It finished.  We had supper.  I said:  "Ok girls, time to go upstairs".

And they went.

No really, they went.  Just like that.

I told L today, and I was not exaggerating, that that was the proudest parenting moment I've had this year, if not ever.

Because if there's one thing that wears me down about being a (mostly) full-time mum (and to be honest, wore me down when I wasn't a full-time mum too), it's endlessly, endlessly, repeating myself:

PLEASE: brush your teeth, eat your supper, stop hitting your sister, get down from there, share it with her, hold my hand while we cross the road, stop shouting, don't talk with your mouth full, don't snatch, upstairs for bed, wash your hands, put that in the bin, say please, say thank you, just do what you're told!

Except apparently I'm wrong.  According to Annalisa Barbieri, in today's Guardian obedient children become doormats, compliant nobodies, victims of peer pressure.  What we want, of course we want, is sparky, intelligent children who question the status quo, and stand up to authority.  Starting with us.  Apparently.

And when she puts it like that, of course I agree with her.  But I'm still not sure I wouldn't take the risk.  Just for a few more moments like the one last week...


  1. I love the idea of sparky intelligent children questioning the status quo. Just the status quo outside of my house. Because at home my word goes*

    *in theory. in reality I'd love to say that they question it alot but I don't think they even listen to me to be able to question it in the first place!

    1. Ah! Listening! After obedience, I think I dream of listening next...

  2. Oooh, very interesting.

    It's a balance, surely. Family life has to function, and therefore the young child has to accept that the adult sets boundaries and has rules. But you don't want to squash them and have them living in fear. Is obedience the same as compliance? *ponders*

    I've just had a girl round for a playdate with my daughter, and I would say she is a product of totally child-led parenting. I guess it works for her parents, but it means she is at sea when she's in an environment that isn't like that - ie outside her own home. I felt very sorry for her. She's got a lot of learning to do at the age of 7, that most kids do before the age of 5. I'd love to write a post about it, but with blogging, you never know who is reading you.

    It's a process, I think. You need kids to be obedient to rules, but you need their lives not to be dominated by rules. You need to respect their needs, opinions, feelings, and their emerging selves. It has to change as they mature.

    I don't think it has to be either/or. Surely it's a balance. I like to think that one thing I teach my kids is to identify which rules are important and which are not so important. You really don't want them to grow up thinking that keeping their bedroom tidy is as important as holding your hand while they cross the road. I'm not a mum who thinks "no means no" whatever the circumstance. Sometimes I say no, but am persuadable by a convincing argument or a cheeky smile.

    1. Of course it's a balance, and, as you say, a process - a process from being a toddler to being an adult. (This is one of those things that really annoys me about parenting articles). One of the things I wanted to say (but couldn't make fit in comformtbly) is that surely it enormously depends on the age of your child - your 14-y-o is presumably at an age where he's entitled to set (some of) his own rules and boundaries. I suspect that if I allowed my lot the leeway you probably allow him social services would get involved!

      I hadn't made the distinction between obedience and compliance either. I think you may have hit on something there...

      As for "no meaning no". I definitely never manage that one!

      Oh, and one more thing - the other thing she misses out of the article is how much, at least for me, wanting my children to be obedient is about wanting other adults to think they are nice children (and, in the future, other adults to think they are nice adults). I love it when they are polite and pleasant at someone else's house, and am less keen when they are rude and won't do what they are asked. Does that really make me a bad parent?

  3. Great post. And it seems then that I have two sparky intelligent children who stand up to authority, with ruddy bells on...

  4. Interesting post and comments. I thought about the compliance/obedience and also the age distinction sides of it as well.

    At the age of a year/18 months, don't stick your finger in that socket means don't stick your finger in that socket or you might die. However, at age 5 you will go to bed at 7pm can easily become you can go to bed at 7.15 today because you've been nice today.

    I don't think I'm a particularly strict parent and if my children ever question my rules then I am happy to discuss them and amend them where necessary. If they just don't do as they're told though, I do get a bit (!) peevish. Also, some rules are rules because they keep my children safe, or prevent them from overly irritating other people.

    Anyway, that is a long wittery comment that pretty much fails to say anything new or exciting!

  5. Agree it is a balance but sometimes I do just love those words 'because I said so'......

    1. That was only supposed to happen once - but actually, repeating it gives more of the effect, don't you think?

  6. Oh this is me at the moment, struggling with a willful, disobedient and non compliant child who seems to have an answer for everything.

    I do despair that everything has to be either or with articles like that, There is no happy medium.

  7. Happy mediums (media?) don't sell papers though...

  8. When our kids are this good, it's so important to congratulate them and make them feel wonderful about what they've done. T'is the best form of encouragement - not to mention to best way to let mummy and daddy chillax!!

    CJ x

  9. You're so right - and it so worked! (for about three minutes, anyway).

  10. Great post as usual.
    I have been meaning to leave a comment for a while but I have so many things to say that I have kept on postponing it and yet I think my comment will be too long. How shall I start?
    I do not agree with Annalisa Barbieri. Probably being French I did not like the image she gave about French education by quoting her own memories with her aunt.
    I have not read the book she mentioned but what I do notice by spending time in playgrounds or organising/participating in playdate is that the average level of parents involvement into their child "bad" behaviour here is below (not far below though) the average French level (of course it is only based on my small personnal experience, which does not allow to draw any official conclusion)
    What about teaching your child boundaries so that he knows how to live in a society (there are more and more people living on this planet and if we don't share a minimum understanding on how to behave I think we will easily getting chaos)? Tezaching boundaries is also showing care for others and that is the basis for respect: this is a value I do praise a lot. As been already mentioned it's always a matter of finding the right balance between letting your child develop as he wants and setting boundaries. I think it is also how you say no. "No don't do that" is not exactly equivalent at "no don't do that because..."
    What I did like in the article though is the conclusion, the fact that there is no set rules and the key point is to always question oneself. Am I doing right, could I do better?
    After having read your post, the comments and the article, I have decided that in future everytime I want to say "arrête" to my girls I am going to ask myself first: "Why am I saying no?" and if it is for my own convenience only (unfortunately it does happen sometimes) well, I'll try to keep this no in my head only. Me & The Girls

    1. How are you getting on with that? I think it sounds a brilliant idea although I'm not sure how easy I'd find it to stick to!

      I think it's interesting though that you think that there are fewer boundaries in the UK. My french friends have mostly older or younger children so I don't have any direct comparison, but I suspect that may be right. Certainly from time in French schools I think that we here are less regimented and put more importance on independence than in France. Whether that's a good or bad thing remains to be seen...!

    2. As new year resolutions to take advantage of what London has to offer, the first couple of weeks/months is easy, let's see in the long run...

      Well, we could talk a lot about French/English differences as far as children education is concerned and again I am not quite sure that my opinion is actually representative of the official trend if there is any (I am happy to leave here, to be a peacedul member of the mum's blogosphere and I don't want to be contraversial:-)).

  11. Or for some light amusement (and general French bashing - so Me and the Girls, probably you don't want to read it)

    1. I did enjoy it a lot and had a great lauch:-) Me & The Girls

  12. Désolée, wanted to écrire laugh! Me & The Girls.


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