When It Comes To Discipline, ‘Obey’ Is Not A Dirty Word

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I’m going to ask a pretty basic question that might make some parents angry. What’s so wrong with the word “obey”? Why are we so against discipline that forces our children to listen and obey, strictly because we’re the parents and they’re the children? And when did obedience and confidence become mutually exclusive?

I’ve been thinking a lot about discipline lately. It’s occurred to me that there is a very fundamental difference in the parenting techniques practiced by my own parents and the ones practiced by my friends and co-workers. Suddenly, children need to be polite and well-behaved, not because we demand them to, but we want them to respect those around them. We wants children to listen, not because we demand it, but because they sympathize with our position. Kids should worry about our feelings.

I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with teaching children to be respectful and compassionate. In fact, I think those things are very important. But that doesn’t mean that these values have to be the crux of my disciplinary strategy. What’s so wrong with expecting my daughter to listen, simply because I demand it?

Even if modern parents avoid the term, obedience is a necessary skill for life. In the process of building your career, you’re going to have a boss that you simply have to listen to and obey their orders. You might not respect this person. You might not empathize with their position. But you’re going to have to listen anyways, but it’s your job.

Following your boss’s orders won’t make you less of a person. It won’t make your opinions less valid. And it doesn’t have to damage your self-esteem.

What about the legal system? It’s easy to say that teaching morals will guarantee that your children follow the law. But I think those who work in the legal profession will agree that the penal code was not always written according to the world of moral ethics. I don’t think it’s immoral to drive 50mph in a 45 zone. But it’s still against the law and it’s a rule that we must obey.

Obedience has a place in our society, and I don’t think that it harms children to teach them that from an early age.

The arguments against rules and demands in the parenting world always seem to center around a child’s independence and self-confidence. But there are ways to stay in control and still allow your children to have their own opinions and emotions. My daughter doesn’t have to agree with her bedtime, she can be frustrated that it’s earlier than she chooses and she can explain to me why she should stay up. Sometimes, I might acquiesce and sometimes I might. Either way, she’s aware that I’m the one who makes the decision.

I don’t accept that confidence and obedience are mutually exclusive. It’s possible to be a strong person, even a strong little person, with your own thoughts and beliefs and still follow the rules laid out for you. Once again, I’m confident in my work, even if I have to listen to my boss.

My daughter know that I’m in charge. I’m the one who makes the decisions in our house. And yes, it’s because I’m the adult. I’m the one who makes the rules because I’m the parent and I have the experience to know how to keep my child safe.

My little girl has her own opinions. She expressions her emotions thoughtfully. She’s confident in her abilities. But she also knows that adults make rules and she has to follow them.


  1. The Mommy Psychologist

    March 10, 2012 at 4:49 pm

    I cannot tell you how much time I spend with parents assuring them that it is alright to discipline their child. I have to assure them that it is actually beneficial for their child’s development to know boundaries and limits. Our generation of parenting seems so terrified of making mistakes that we choose to do nothing and let our children lead the way.

    “The child psychologist who thought she had all the answers to parenting until she became one herself.”

  2. Melissa

    March 10, 2012 at 6:13 pm

    I definitely think obedience has a place in childrearing. If my kid takes off running toward the street and I holler “No!”, I sure as heck want him to obey!

  3. Angela

    March 11, 2012 at 12:28 pm

    So true! Growing up my own dad heavily relied on the “because I said so” approach which made me decide I would NEVER do that to my own child. Until I actually had one and discovered that sometimes it’s very necessary, especially when dealing with a toddler who isn’t always capable of understanding (or accepting) the explanation I provide. Not to mention that in many instances there simply isn’t time for a lengthy discourse, especially when safety is a concern.

    I do still feel though that the older a child becomes the less appropriate it is to expect blind obedience and the more we can and should take the time to explain the reasoning behind the rules and allow them to suggest acceptable alternatives. Bottom line: teenagers shouldn’t be treated like toddlers but toddlers needn’t be treated like teenagers either. Go figure.

    • Lindsay Cross

      March 11, 2012 at 12:48 pm

      Angela, you make such a great point! The same discipline isn’t going to work for every age group. And we shouldn’t expect it to. Once children get older, it’s important to make them a more integral part of the discipline system.

    • Mrs. Lynn

      March 26, 2012 at 12:11 pm

      Well said! I couldn’t agree more!

  4. Ellymoemoe

    March 12, 2012 at 5:11 am

    I knew a parent who used to let her children sleep in, even if they were going to be late for school. Her argument was that if they slept in, they clearly needed more sleep. I’d be fascinated to know how future bosses react to that logic when they are late for work for the same reason. We need to prepare children for the real world, and discipline, rules etc are all part of that.

    • Mrs. Lynn

      March 26, 2012 at 12:10 pm

      I’m starting to see that mentality manifesting itself in some of my younger coworkers who are often late for work. Usually they are groggy-eyed (sometimes at 1 pm!) because they were up late the previous night. I think it’s already starting to set in with young adults. They dismiss it as that they’re only 5 minutes late ( yeah, but the person you’re relieving would have liked to have gone home 5 minutes ago) and they think you’re too nit-picky when you call them out on it. It pisses me off to no end.

  5. Laura

    March 12, 2012 at 8:46 am

    I might get roasted over the hot coals for this viewpoint but I have to agree with the idea of children obeying their parents. From a Christian parenting point of view, it’s imperative that we teach children the importance of obeying their parents because it will help them later in life when they understand the concept of God the Father and why they must obey Him and the plans that He has for their lives.

    But the good news is……even if you don’t agree with the reasoning behind the need for obedience at least we can be on the same page in the fact that children need rules, structure, discipline AND rewards in order to one day become functioning and productive members of society.

  6. Jackie

    March 13, 2012 at 12:24 am

    What’s wrong with the word obey? Well you are raising children, not dogs. You cannot train children like pets, they are human beings, and need to have their feelings respected not dismissed.

    • Laura

      March 13, 2012 at 10:45 am

      It’s not about dismissing their feelings because the “feeling” my child often has is that she would love to have another cupcake after the one she just ate. But as her parent, it is my job to teach her self-discipline and boundaries – something that she is not born with. In the moment of telling her “no, you may not have another cupcake” yes, I am teaching her to obey my authority but as she grows and matures she will come to understand the reasoning behind my parental decisions. The fact of the matter is that the word “obey” has a negative connotation – many women refuse to have that word as part of their marriage vows – but as an adult in the real world there are many things that I have to “obey” in order to avoid negative consequences. I “obey” the traffic laws, I “obey” the directions of my boss, I “obey” federal and spiritual laws……….if we want our children to grow up to be productive, contributing and dynamic adult citizens, at some point they will have to learn obedience to a higher authority.

  7. riodv

    March 16, 2012 at 4:49 am

    Hey Jackie, I have news for you and it’s going to be shocking…raising a toddler and raising a puppy aren’t so far from similar; when you say “No!” and pull them abrubtly away from sticking their finger in a wall socket or drinking out of the toilet/eating out of the garbage, you pretty much do it for the same reasons – their SAFETY, and because you know better. As a mother-to-be, and one who has helped to raise my MANY nieces and nephews since I, myself, was about 7yrs old! [it takes a village], I am pretty clear about this point. Obviously room for healthy negotiation develops as a child’s mental and cognitive development progresses. But ‘obedience’ is still not a dirty word of its own sake; everyone would do well to remember that.

    Lindsey, I am loving this series. Please read my comments on your “Disciplining Your Brat…” article. Bravo, ma’am. 🙂

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