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.
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.
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.
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!