An Experiment In Obedience


We are three weeks into a six-week experiment with training our kids in the habit of obedience.

I prefer to secure the child’s will, give him lots of choice within boundaries, and give him time and space to make a decision. But sometimes a child just needs to obey because a parent knows better.

Our kids weren’t bad about obeying, but sometimes it took some convincing. Convincing takes time that we sometimes do not have.

Then I ran into this quote,

“Tardy, unwilling, occasional obedience is hardly worth the having; and it is greatly easier to give the child the habit of perfect obedience by never allowing him in anything else, than it is to obtain this mere formal obedience by constant exercise of authority.” Charlotte Mason

Over time we’ve tried various methods to “exercise our authority,” but no matter what the method used, Ms. Mason is right, it’s a terrible burden.

What does “never allowing him in anything else” mean? Charlotte Mason suggests taking six weeks to train a new habit and she views obedience as a habit.

Six weeks sounds excruciatingly long to work on one thing, but it sounds blissfully short if it means never struggling with our kids over obedience again.

I won’t go into all the details, partly because I don’t like to make suggestions when an idea has not stood the test of time, but here’s a little bit of what we’ve discovered along the way.

Week 1

We saw lots of progress in the first week. I was thrilled to have obedience be a positive interaction with my kids. Since we all discussed the new idea and the advantages it would bring, they were eager to be on board.

I yelled much less, we all celebrated when a child was prompt, cheerful, and lasting in his obedience, and often it only took one child to obey promptly and receive praise to inspire the others to do so, too.

At the end of each day I was exhausted, but not worn out and frustrated, just exhausted like I’d done a hard day’s labor – and I had!

It was work to not give out too many commands, interrupt my work to be sure my command would be heard and obeyed, deal calmly and firmly when someone did disobey, and find my way in this new experiment.

Toward the end of the week the kids rebelled a bit, as if to say, “That was a fun experiment, Mom, but can we go back to doing things our own way when we feel like it?”

It was the first sign that maybe six weeks are necessary. Normally I revel in the success and start to coast. I coast until I wake up one day later and realize I’ve coasted right back to where we were before.

Week 2

We’d been fooled to thinking our work was mostly done because we’d seen so much fruit, but week two revealed that my husband and I weren’t fully on the same page. When he was lax, I was more likely to be lax and we all fell back into old habitual ways.

We had to work details out and remotivate ourselves.

We read through our list of motivations for this obedience experiment that we’d made at the start. We discussed the advantages with our kids again. Obedience brings liberty. Mom and Dad yell less. Not yelling was probably the biggest reason for us all.

We struggled this week, but we got back on track.

Week 3

We’re finding our rhythm. Stephan and I still have to find full alignment, but it’s getting easier for us all to require and deliver obedience.

The house is a bit of a mess. In order to train the habit of obedience, I haven’t been nagging about everything, which means pick-up time hasn’t happened because I’ve wanted to avoid an obedience fight over it.

Yesterday I asked Vivienne to pick up the beads that were scattered all over the floor and to tell her siblings to help as well. She said, “Oh yes, Mommy!” with a smile and ran off.

Stephan and I nearly fainted. Is Charlotte Mason right? Can obedience really become such a habit that it is really no great effort for the child?

I don’t know. This time Stephan went in to help them all pick up and keep a positive atmosphere, but such help in the past would not have been enough to prevent the kids from whining and complaining about the difficulty of the task.

This week I’ll try making more frequent requests for small pick-up tasks and see how it goes.

At this point, three more weeks doesn’t sound horribly long and I’m starting to hope that we really have habitual happy obedience at the end of it!

Have you ever focused on one aspect of parenting over a long period of time? If so, how did it go? If not, why not? The idea is new to me, so please share!

10 thoughts on “An Experiment In Obedience”

  1. Cute comic!

    I’m glad your experiment is going well!

    I have never really focused my attention like you have in this Charlotte Mason inspired project. I think I start off with best intentions, but you know how perception of time can be deceiving? Often I’ll think we’ve been attacking a habit or a topic or a project for weeks… when in reality it’s been only a few days. I hope better written records and more focus can make this more realizable for me!

    1. Yes, yes! I’ve been SHOCKED since I started keeping a diary at the crazy pace of change I impose on my family. A few days of hard work really do feel like a few weeks. Yet somehow, a few weeks only feel like a few days. Writing things down in a way that makes it possible to review is key. I sense that, but haven’t found the *perfect* solution yet. Sigh, there I go wanting perfection again . . .

  2. Frankly, I just don’t trust myself to remain consistent, nor do I trust “life” to allow me to be. Whenever we’ve started something intentional like you’re doing – and in nearly 8 years I’ve sat my kids down to start a LOT of new “habits” or training in consistency, it seems – life has had a way of undermining our good intentions with things beyond our control. (Sifting priorities with only a moment’s notice has never been a strong suit of mine, though.) Ideally, you’ll engrain the good obedience habits in your kids and yourself before any major storms hit, so once the storms do hit, the habits are well-established. To prove that I mean this comment to be encouraging and not full of pessimism, I’ll share a quote from a friend: “One of our ministers put it this way, ‘You play like you practice.  Why would a coach put you in the game if you haven’t practiced?’ In times of stress & chaos, we default to our training. So, let us be diligent & consistent in our faith practice of [obedience training, in this case].” Keep up the good and inspiring work, my friend.

    1. Yes, life does happen. We’ve practiced all our lives another way, hoping to fix it in six seems a bit unrealistic.

      Yet somehow we can find a way to stick to our priorities. It’s so hard to simplify enough to be able to focus on one thing. I really do oversetimate what can be done in one day and one week even though I KNOW I shouldn’t pack in too much.

      At the same time, I know I underestimate what can be accomplished in a few months or a year if done consistently – even a very tiny bit.

      This time it really helped us to write down all our reasons for doing the experiment in the first place. It’s crazy how easy it is to forget when the going gets tough. Reading through our notes helped a lot.

      Soldier on, my friend!

  3. When I sat down and wrote “50 Reasons for Homeschooling” before we began that particular experiment, I thought I was writing for others — particularly family members — who might be shocked and skeptical. It turns out I was writing at least as much for the encouragement of my future self. 🙂

    1. Good thoughts about record-keeping.

      Linda, if you’d care to share those 50 reasons, I sure could use them as we re-assess all our educational choices for next year. (Certain enrollment decisions usually need to be made by mid-January around here.) TIA!

      1. Here it is, Sarah (assuming the link works). You can see how out of date it is, and was even ten years ago when I published it on my blog. It turns out I remembered wrong that I was writing it more for others than for myself, though that may have been hindsight from 2006, I don’t know. It’s also too specific to our particular situation to be as useful as it might, but I’m sure it has some general applicability as well.

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