If You Want What’s Best For Your Kids, Stop Expecting Them to Obey You

Yesterday I had a standoff with a three-year-old. I had just told him to sit on the couch and think about how he could be more gentle with his little brother. He folded his arms and said, “I will not think about anything.”

I was momentarily speechless. I wasn’t used to him talking to me that way. He was a pretty laid-back kid. And, after all, that kind of disrespect is not part of our home. He should know better…

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…shouldn’t he?

I had to catch myself. No, he does not know better. He, like all of us, was born with a sinful heart. If gone unchecked that sin is ready to show itself at every possible opportunity.

I also had to remind myself: That kind of disrespect most certainly is part of our home – because our home is filled with sinners.

Parents, we have to expect our kids to disobey. They do not come to us as perfect little angels and they don’t come to us neutral. They come to us with a heart problem. And God has given us, their parents, the job of training those hearts.

My son was not off the hook for his disrespectful answer – but more importantly, neither was Mommy. I had a job to do. My son was doing what came naturally to him – disobeying. It was up to me to show him how to obey.

Most Christian parents would claim to have high expectations of obedience for their children. It’s easy to forget that the burden of those expectations falls on us as the parents. Expecting our kids to obey starts with expecting ourselves to do something about their disobedience. They don’t know better. We do.

If we don’t expect our kids to disobey we will be caught off guard when it happens and we will respond in one of two ways:

1. Anger and frustration. Think about the last blow up you had at the kids. Most likely they had done something disobedient, destructive, or just plain foolish. I remember telling my six-year-old last week in a moment of frustration, “I never thought to tell you not to cut my tube of toothpaste open with scissors. I can’t make a rule about EVERYTHING. You know what’s right and what’s wrong!”

But, no, he doesn’t. That’s why he has Mom and Dad. We are his beacon in the darkness, showing him the way to life and peace. I need to be prepared, not angry. My training should always be done in gentleness and patience, knowing that my son and I share the common problem of sin. If my Savior was tempted in all things as I am so that He can show me grace (Hebrews 4:15), how could I not show that same grace to my son? That doesn’t mean excusing sin, but handling it with gentleness.

2. Oblivious parenting. At a birthday party a couple years ago I saw a mom tell her son not to eat anymore cookies. She went back to talking to her friends – and he went right back to eating cookies.

Do we sometimes expect our kids to obey, but don’t expect ourselves to have to put forth the necessary effort to train them? It would be nice if giving an order was enough, but it’s not. We have to show our kids how to obey and be ready to show them what happens when they don’t obey.

These are training years, parents. We are in the trenches. Yes, we will miss out on conversations with our friends. We might have to suddenly hang up the phone or pull over the car. We have to parent with the expectation that our kids will disobey and it is up to us to step in immediately and train them. Obedience does not happen naturally.

There is a beautiful parallel between God’s parenting and our parenting. God knows we are sinners, but He does not treat us as our sins deserve because we are His beloved children (Psalm 103:10). However, if He lets our sin go unchecked, He would not be a loving Father. He disciplines out of love (Hebrews 12:6).

When we expect our kids to disobey we are able to strike that balance of grace and discipline. We should not get angry and frustrated, but we must also not become passive.

Do you have a short fuse when your kids disobey? Remember that they are sinners in need of grace, just like you.

Do you take a passive approach to parenting, assuming your kids are obeying you, or at least obeying “good enough?” Remember that they are sinners and sin requires action. Since they are too young and foolish to handle it themselves, their precious lives are in your hands.


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Sara Wallace
Sara Wallace is a Jesus-loving wife and mom of four little boys. She spends her busy mom days homeschooling her kiddos in the backwoods of Idaho and clinging to grace. She explores how the power of the gospel equips us for this sticky, messy, heart-wrenchingly beautiful battle called motherhood at her blog, The Gospel-Centered Mom. For more from Sara, you can also check her out on Facebook and Google +.