A while back, we had a sleepover with another family whose children are of similar ages to mine. In the morning my friend was watching us start the day as he had a last shot of coffee before tackling his own brood.
My children ate their breakfast and cleared their dishes, washed, dressed then went to make their beds, all with occasional direction from me or their dad. At length, my friend remarked, “They’re so obedient!” It’s the way he said it; as though it was too good to be true.
The comment stuck with me, it made me feel uneasy. Was my home a fascist regime where dissenters expected to be ‘disappeared’ into an endless time out? Or worse, to suffer ‘the consequence that has no name’? You know the one; for parents it’s the Holy Grail that guarantees immediate and absolute submission, the key that unlocks the door between the parent’s will and that of their misguided child, if only we were able to find it. For children it is a mythic dark force, an unfinished sentence that might begin with, “when your father gets home…”.
But we really don’t use consequences much so I took a look at our family rule book. It definitely has many directives; if you take it out, put it away; if you get up early, be quiet, feed the cat and let him out. But none of these are really rules – no-one has to be quiet when they wake up early on a holiday, I feed the cat when the kids are busy and, Lord knows, I pick up 70% of the stuff any of us get out on any given day around here! When I really thought about it, it turns out that we have only four rules:
- Be kind; to all living things, including yourself.
- Be truthful; with everyone, including yourself.
- Be respectful; of your elders, of your environment, of what you do not understand, of potential dangers.
- Be the best self that you can be now.
That morning wasn’t about obedience for anyone in my family, it was about rhythm. The shape of our day is generally predictable and our expectations are consistent so we follow our habits, using reminders to stay on track. Obedience would be if Monkey Boy would stop poking his sister under the table before being told through clenched teeth, for the sixth time in one meal! Still working on that.