An Unusual Account
In my nearly twenty years of actively studying good parenting skills, I have read tens of thousands of words on the subject. One of the concepts that I have found particularly helpful was the likening of building a relationship to building up an account in a “love bank”, if you will. (My apologies to the originator of this idea, as I cannot recall whom to credit.) This idea applies to any relationship, but here I am just focusing on our parental relationships with our children.
Whenever we have good experiences with our children, we are making deposits in their love bank account. Every hug, every laugh, every shared disappointment – these are all deposits.
As with every account, we also make withdrawals. When children need correction, they often don’t like it. In their eyes, we have made a withdrawal from their account. When children are told “no” to something they really wanted, that can be a withdrawal for them. It doesn’t matter if that “no” was in their best interests. The determiner of whether an event is a deposit or withdrawal is the child. I think you can see where I am going with this. When the withdrawals start outnumbering the deposits, everyone starts seeing red.
As our children have gotten older, their freedom has expanded within our acceptable limits. Thus, they are practicing making bigger, more important decisions. Through this practice, our children are coming to acquire self-discipline and self-control, rather than parentally-imposed control – which backfires in the end. For when that external control is absent, there actually is no control at all, and mayhem results.
Balancing the Books
Now back to the question of obedience. As I’ve described, the first step in developing this virtue in our children was providing them with opportunities to practice making decisions within our parent-defined acceptable limits. They weren’t making bad decisions because a bad choice was not an option. We were framing the questions where all legitimate answers were fine with us. Seen from a different light, we were basically saying “yes” to our children as often as possible.
But sometimes, the answer must just be a flat-out, simple “No”, with no apologies, no excuses, end of story. This is where obedience shows its face. I am defining obedience here as the act of ceding to the will of another, especially when it is contrary to one’s own will. However, I know that I have a nice, fat deposit cushion when my child accepts that “no” and just walks away without protesting or pushing for me to change my mind. I know that I need to make more deposits in that child’s love bank account when the child tries to argue back. Thankfully, I have developed the habit of making frequent deposits with my children, so I rarely experience the latter scenario any more.
Thus, our children hear “yes” as much as possible within our defined limits, and the “no’s” are few and far between. We are able to say “yes” this much because we have learned how to guide our children in the use of their free will. In so doing, they have also learned that when they hear that “no” – it really is a “no.” And when they cede to our wills, though contrary to their own, they grow in obedience.
Investing for the Future
Our home is not the prelapsarian Garden of Eden. But I hear from other parents that things seem much more peaceful in our home than theirs. I think it is because our children understand the freedom they have within clear, reasonable, parent-defined limits, as well as the consequences of exercising their free will outside of those limits. In other words, my husband and I strive to continually give our children opportunities and practice in making good decisions. And in continuing to practice under our watchful care, we pray that our children will be well-prepared to make very good decisions after they have flown the coop.