Equivocation, landmines and first time obedience

Landmine warning, Cambodia

If consistency is the only indicator of good parenting, you’d be hard pressed to find good parenting here. My parenting style alters depending on what I’ve read most recently. I’m glad consistency is not the only indicator. Ensuring more-cuddles-than-meals, and more-meals-than-baths is also useful.

At least by world-schooling, WE are consistent. The relationship is present. Even if the methods change. And my favourite parenting writer Gordon Neufeld says parenting is not a set of skills, it’s a relationship.

There is a brand of parenting advice which places a good deal of emphasis on First Time Obedience. You will know it if you know it and which I’m not going to introduce you to it if you don’t.  First Time Obedience is the idea that kids obey first, and immediately,  and clarify or ask questions, or appeal, later.

We haven’t insisted on First Time Obedience with our kids. If we ask them to do xyz, we like to hear ‘yes mum’ or ‘yes dad’ but if they say, ” please may I have 5 more minutes” or “I just did xyz” or ‘I’m watching Baby Boy, so I can’t’ then we try to listen and be reasonable.

We don’t, however, put up with repeating inane things like “brush your teeth and climb into bed” seventeen times.

So, our kids listen, and understand obedience, but we haven’t stressed First Time Obedience per se.

Here’s the rub: there are 4 to 6 million unexploded landmines in Cambodia, and we have three kids who love to run off paths and jump in piles of leaves (and two more who would if they could).

First Time Obedience is what I wanted in Cambodia. If I say COME HERE or STOP there should be NO room for discussion or debate. It’s a safety issue.

So, a couple of times I’ve found myself wishing I trained up my kids like Captain Von Trapp, in The Sound of Music. I could blow my whistle and they’d come running. I say jump, and they’d hover, waiting for permission to land again.  We could walk a safe narrow path through landmine laden fields and guarantee they’d stay safe.

As it happens, we stayed in pretty safe areas, and the children had a healthy enough understanding/fear of the landmine issue that they stuck pretty close to us. So it worked out.

(I have so much to write about landmines, and disability in Cambodia, and I will. But today is about something else)


The situation got me thinking. ( I appreciate I overthink things, and people of the generation before ‘to parent’ became a verb will understandably roll their eyes…)


I believe in parental authority; that is, I do actually believe parents have the right and the obligation to direct their kids.

I also believe in right and wrong, and that kids are capable of both. I recently read a parenting book that said there is no right and wrong, there is only love and fear. That, my friends, is a load of rubbish. I do both right and wrong everyday.

I also believe we have a duty to raise, train and teach our kids. I think child-led learning is wonderful, but maintain there is a BIG role for parents. It involves relationship, communication, affection and TIME.

So, even though First Time Obedience is an attractive and possibly comforting idea,  we wouldn’t like to parent like that all the time. We want our children to be capable of polite enquiry, thorough debate and constructive criticism. We want our children to rigorously defend their own points of view, back up their arguments and follow their own ideas through to their logical conclusions.

We want them to have the courage of their convictions and learn to swim against the tide.

And they are getting very good at this! Far out, my kids are so opinionated. Hmmmmm, I think they get it from me. I knew traveling together would give us more ‘family time’.   I didn’t know how much of it would be spent in such spirited debate!



Of course, when its bed time, its bed time. ‘I’m not tired’ doesn’t count as a good an argument, and gets no point for originality either.

The other reason we allow debate, is that we don’t want our children to learn obedience through fear.

It shouldn’t be the volume or the size of a person that determines whether we follow their instructions or not. Unlike driving in Asia, where little guys give way to big guys, we should acquiesce if the person is RIGHT, not scary.  As parents, we shouldn’t model that big people get to tell little people what to do, because of our bigness. What would happen when they grow bigger than me?

And blind, unthinking obedience can lead to stupidity, like the secuirity guys at the airport diligently placing bags on the monitor conveyor belt, when there is no one watching the x-ray screen.

Of course, it would be much simpler if we just laid down the law and enforced total obedience. But if simplicity was our goal, we would have steered well clear of parenthood, wouldn’t we?

So, we continue on, talking, wrestling and wrangling verbally with our kids. Sometimes we allow ourselves to be pursuaded. Sometimes we are wrong. Sometimes we agree to disagree.

Just not when there is a field of landlines.

So, what parenting philosophy are we subscribing to this week? I think it’s called eclectic.

How do you get your head around obedience?

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10 Responses to Equivocation, landmines and first time obedience

  1. Kylie June 9, 2012 at 6:10 pm #

    Obedience is a tricky issue here. You can’t parent foster kids the way we want, we have to follow certain rules. I have taught my children not to blindly obey for various reasons. Lots of people disagree with my reasons but I’ve stopped caring. 😉

    • Jill June 9, 2012 at 7:59 pm #

      Hats off to you for fostering! Yes, that adds a whole new level of complication.

  2. Lisa Wood June 9, 2012 at 7:55 pm #

    I am so not sure what type of parent I am! I love to be the unschooling type, yet I am not relaxed enough.

    I dont like my kids to be like puppy dogs and obey everything I say – hubby and i have lots of talks about this very issue! He thinks that our boys should “Listen and obey” straight away. And gets up them when they dont….I gently remind him that they are not puppy dogs.

    I like our boys to be kind, and to help out and to be part of our family. But I dont like to be the one that lays down the law, and they all jump to attention.

    And like you say…I change my parenting styles for a different day, different situation, different childs needs. Its what works well for me (and our family)!
    Lisa Wood recently posted..Why Would I Even BotherMy Profile

    • Jill June 9, 2012 at 7:58 pm #

      Absolutely! If we wanted puppy dogs, we’d just go get one of those instead!
      I also value kindness, and am becoming convinced that I need to talk less about it, but demonstrate more of it to my kids.Tricky.

  3. Tracey Mansted June 11, 2012 at 12:00 pm #

    Eclectic here too!
    And in the same way I like the “idea” of unschooling, I like the idea of being super relaxed with family rules BUT the reality is there is a lot of opinionated discussion here already and sometimes we too need the girls to “just do it” and discuss later.
    Context is everything isn’t it, in regard to discipline.
    Landmines definitely require immediate responses : )
    Great post Jill!
    Tracey Mansted recently posted..Do you need to get out more?My Profile

  4. Amy @worldschooladventures June 11, 2012 at 12:40 pm #

    I’m reading a Gordon Nuefeld book right now!

    We have definite rules in our house but not a lot of them. I expect my children to listen to me but in turn I listen to them. They have a bedtime but if we are up to something its ok to stay up late. We are strict about what they eat in our house but when they go to grandma’s they will get fed junk and that is OK (kind of)! They need to talk nicely to people. If they don’t like something I don’t want them to whine about it, they need to talk about the problem. Most of the time if I need them to stop what they are doing I ask them to finish up instead of demanding their attention at that very second.

    I try hard to respect them and in turn expect that they will respect me. Of course I screw up sometimes and lose my cool…so do they.

    One of the things that helps me parent is to ask myself if I was dealing with a friend instead of my child how would I treat the situation. Sometimes I am able to catch myself and be calm and reasonable and sometimes I reflect on it after I have screwed up. I’m also big on apologizing when I need to.

    For me parenting is a constantly evolving process that I don’t think I will ever feel I am perfect at, but I will always be trying to improve myself.
    Amy @worldschooladventures recently posted..We’ve Been Busy!My Profile

  5. Kath June 13, 2012 at 3:08 pm #

    Really love this post. Keep that parenting talk coming. Struggling with toddler behaviours at moment and nice to read something that reflects some of my thoughts.

  6. Joanne June 14, 2012 at 6:30 am #

    Great post- as a parent, I also understand the fact that circumstances arise and I can feel it would be easier to handle this if I was parenting in a different style.
    I believe as a parent that we need to adapt our methods to our individual children and as they grow. You can still be consistent about specific Dos and Donts while other things can change gradually as children grow into more freedoms.
    I think that First Time Obedience can be dangerous. Children need to be empowered to say “I don’t want to do that” for their own safety and to develop their own moral compass. Not all big people and authority figures have good intentions towards our children and not all of the societal ‘norms’ will apply to our family. Of course, there will be times when they refuse something that is legitimate that we as parents want or need them to do. That’s when the foundation of our relationship with them comes into play.
    Early parenting was about prayers for guidance for me as a mother, then gently establishing some boundaries that we expected them to follow, ie. firmly but gently separating toddlers with the words “in our family, we don’t hit each other in anger.” It was also about gentle transitions whenever possible; the 10 minute warning. “We need to leave soon. You have 10 minutes.” Obviously, this wasn’t always possible. In that case, acknowledging their frustration, “I’m sorry, I know you were in the middle of something but we really had to go now because….” These are considerations that I appreciate so its a case of “do unto others…” I learned that even very little children can understand a lot more than they can initially communicate so giving them reasons and giving them credit for intelligence started to work very early.
    Now I have two teenage boys and so far so good. Not perfect, still plenty of maternal fears and worries but we rarely have pitched battles either. I still renew those prayers often.

  7. Dr Laura Markham June 16, 2012 at 11:09 pm #

    Love this post! I am betting that kids who live every day with landmines learn to respect their presence, just as kids do who live close to traffic. Teaching kids about the risk in ways that they really hear when it’s a new, temporary condition is indeed a challenge. But I appreciate your thoughtfulness about this. And as much as I am against “obedience” to authority (because it overrides the still, small voice within), I do think there are times when immediate obedience matters because it’s about life or death.

    BTW, I tried to sign up for your emails and got an error message.

  8. Jennifer Pearce June 27, 2012 at 1:02 pm #

    I used to act like everything was a landmine, and it caused us all more stress than necessary, and it made everyone hypersensitive to being told what to do and/or how to do it. I agree that more than anything children just need love and time. I’ve noticed that through giving my children more freedom, my relationship with them has improved, and we are all experiencing greater emotional health as a result. :) I think your children are amazing, and I know that they are very fortunate to have such conscientious parents.

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