Saturday, June 20, 2009

Compliance vs Cooperation

"It's not control or compliance that you are looking for;
it's calm and cooperation."

~Barbara Coloroso in "Kids are Worth It"

Every time I see a parenting book talk about 'compliance' I remember something I read in some other parenting book (I honestly don't remember which one):
Think about the person that you hope your child will be when he grows up. Do you want him to be a 'yes man' who only knows how to follow orders and who never questions authority? Or do you want him to be a thinking person who knows how to look at the situation and see the options, find solutions, make compromises, and (when appropriate) question authority?

I am hoping for the latter. For this reason, I do not believe that it is appropriate to force my children to bend to my will.
Scripture teaches that "He that is commanded in all things is a slothful and not a wise servant." This is not the future I hope for for my children!

All of this is not to suggest that I never tell my children what to do. I am here in a position of authority, and it is my job to teach them and raise them. There are some things they don't know yet, and some things which they know but don't practice very well yet. I absolutely believe that obedience is vital, and if I tell my child to do something I absolutely expect them to obey me. BUT, before telling my child to do something, I try consider just why I am telling him this. Is it an issue which threatens a body, mind, or soul? If not, then how much does it really matter? For example, I may find it terribly annoying that Wolf prefers to sleep with his feet by the headboard and his head at the other end of his bed. I may also find it very strange that as often as not he'd rather sleep on the floor. But is this really a problem? Or does it just annoy me? and if it's only an annoyance, only a preference, then are my preferences more important than his preferences? (if you answered 'yes' to that last question, I urge you to really reconsider how you view your children, and whether you genuinely respect them.) If it is not something with threatens body, mind, soul (or property), then I try to stay out of the way.
OK you say, but sleeping upside down or on the floor isn't a big deal. Yes, you're right, it's not. But I have seen parents get terribly upset over things that small. Let me try to think of some more examples:
  • Hitting a sibling or playmate--bodily harm (I will intervene)
  • Refusing to eat a particular food--only an annoyance. (I don't like mushrooms, and I am willing to accept that Wolf doesn't like tomatoes. So long as he has tried them, he has a right to have that opinion.)
  • Throwing things--it depends where he in the lake? go for it. rocks at a sibling? Absolutely not. rocks in the back yard? well, it depends a great deal on the size and layout of the backyard!
  • Climbing trees that look too big to me--oo, danger to body! Make him get down, right?! (well, is he really in danger? Possibly...but I have concluded that I will never help my kid into a tree...if they can get up themselves, then I figure that wherever they climb is within their range of skill)
  • Eating candy before dinner--potentially this could harm his body, so we certainly don't allow it regularly...on the other hand, I'm of the opinion that a child who doesn't get apple pie or chocolate cake for breakfast from time to time may be in danger of mental or spiritual harm, so sometimes the balance is more important than having a rule with no exceptions.
And there is that ugly phrase, "exception to the rule..." ahh, yes, consistency, the mark of a great parent.
Or not.
That's going to be another post.


Becky N. said...

Today I've felt like a giant monster of a mommy. We got home from vacation LATE last night. The kids weren't in their beds asleep until after 12:30am. They didn't nap on the trip home at all. And, as I predicted, they woke up with the sun just before 7am.

They were kicking and screaming in protest of bedtime. Not fair! We just got home! We want to play! I don't want that bed! etc. But hubby and I were absolutely insistent that they MUST go to bed. No other choice. Any other action would result in a terrible tomorrow.

I felt a little bad about setting such an absolute, giving them no options. And it didn't even help in the end, anyway, as they spent the entire day having meltdown after meltdown, even with a nap. And again, bedtime was severely protested tonight, despite them being allowed staying up till 8:30, which is past their normal bedtime.

Long story short: More of the "You MUST go to bed!!" routine tonight. Because I simply cannot handle another day like this tomorrow, and it's no fun for them, either.... and I know that lack of sleep will easily recreate it.

Can this fall under the harm to the body/mind category? Should I stop feeling so guilty about putting my foot down even when the protests are so loud and severe?? (Will someone *please* tell me that they'll be happier tomorrow, and that I'll feel more sane?????)

Mommy Bee said...

Oooo Becky, you are a bad mommy. Tsk tsk tsk. ;)
I think we all have days like that (weeks, anyone?!) I think the bigger issue isn't whether we have days like that, but whether we think about them when we do. The fact that you're thinking about how it went--and trying to think of a way to maybe do something differently next time--that says to me that you are a good mommy who had a bad day.
I do think that sometimes a kid has to be forced. Bear doesn't like holding hands in the parking lot. Too bad. He doesn't always like it when I insist on teeth brushing before bed either--also too bad. Some things DO matter, and if you know that your kids need a certain amount of sleep (goodness knows mine do) then I think it is entirely fair for mommy to protect the child's phyiscal and mental health by insisting on bed NOW. Trying to make peaceful routines is great, but occasionally marching them to the bedroom might just be how it goes.
I think psychological harm stems more from ongoing ignoring of their needs/opinions/desires, constantly forcing your preferences on them, etc. It's one thing to insist on a bedtime, it's another to scream at them that they are stupid, wicked, headed to he**, etc if they don't obey... Incidentally, I'd say that so long as they are arguing, that's an indication that you're still pretty safe (and that they are probably just over-tired). The kid who stops arguing and just silently complies is the one who has been broken. If he no longer manages to even form his own opinion (let alone voice it), then I'd be really really worried.

Jenni said...

this post has some nice examples of common "compliance" demands, along with "cooperation" alternatives

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