Question about Obedience

Posted on October 6, 2011 · Posted in Parenting

Here is a question from one our readers. Actually it is a real-life scenario with some thoughtful considerations and questions. These kinds of questions and scenarios are always welcome on the blog! Thanks to Wendy for sending it in. Read it over, see what you thoughts are and I will respond to it tomorrow.

I was wondering if you could help me some direction in my thinking on this.  Yesterday I took my four children (from ages 7 to almost 2) over to an elderly lady’s house.  She has been to our house recently and my children and I have enjoyed developing a friendship with her.  We attend the same church and my children have really taken to her and she to them.   So, I was happy to take them for a morning at her house baking cookies together.  When we arrived she informed me that the visit wasn’t really about she and I getting to talk, but the emphasis was on her getting to be around and visit with my children.  I thought, “OK, that’s fine.  I’m glad she enjoys them and it will be good for both my children getting to interact with someone in their 80’s and for her to get to interact with little kids.” (She lost her husband last year).  She then announced to the kids they could do whatever they wanted.  They could open any doors and explore anything.  When I would attempt to intervene with my children for instance, to make sure they weren’t throwing the straight pins from her sewing table into the floor (which eventually did happen) or making sure they weren’t swinging the intricate wooden family tree on her wall, she would fuss at me and say, “Don’t be so uptight.  Don’t worry about that.  Let them do whatever.”  So, at that point, I’m trying to walk the balance between showing her respect and allowing her to have the kind of “fun time” with my children that she wanted to have, but also knowing that my children are hearing her and knowing their past tendencies that when given an “inch” they take three miles.  So, I was kind of waffling, quieting instructing and reminding the children (though almost every time she heard me, she would reprimand me.)  Then, they started making cookies.  She showed me where my chair was…near, but definitely away from the “action” of cookie making.  As I knew would happen, things started to quickly unravel.  I found her getting frazzled and starting to raise her voice.  I also saw a change in my children – being so disrespectful, ungrateful, unhelpful.  I was thinking “they don’t act like this at home” – though I know the potential is definitely in them.  I stepped in without making a big entrance and finally she did ask for my help.  However, I never was really able to gain control over my children at that point.  It was like they had been given the freedom to do whatever they wanted and saw how she was speaking to me, and so they were not obeying the first time, they were arguing and complaining, etc.  I don’t think our time together really ended up how she wanted it to – with the children obviously having a good time and herself not becoming stressed.  The thing is – I knew this would happen!  When we had to wait 30 minutes for the bread to cook, she didn’t want me instructing them to sit quietly on the couch and look at books – to her, that was too strict.  But I knew, that we had several hours left in our visit and without giving them some quiet time (even if they didn’t want to) it would all get crazy before our visit was over.

How do I show respect to her, yet still serve my children while we are there?  Like I said, things don’t go this way (usually) at our house.  How do I train my children to still obey and be respectful in that kind of situation? … I wonder if they will ever just know how to act and what to do without me having to remind them.

Jay Younts
John A. (Jay) Younts is the Shepherd Press blogger, and is a ruling elder serving at Redeemer Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church in Moore, South Carolina. He has written Everyday Talk, Everyday Talk About Sex & Marriage, Finding the Right Track, the In Touch With Paul stewardship series, and What About War. He has studied and taught about biblical childrearing for 30 years. He and his late wife Ruth have five adult children.