06/08/2012 04:52 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Do You Teach Your Kids To Obey?


We should.

It's a loaded word, I know. "Obey" conjures up everything from misogynistic wedding vows to corporal punishment at the hands of sadists masquerading as educators. When I say "obey," you might hear "subjugated" or "oppressed."

Let's check in with Merriam-Webster. To obey: "1. To follow the commands or guidance of 2. To conform to or comply with [as in to obey an order]."

We want our kids to be critical thinkers. So when I tell my son to do something and he asks "Why?" or says, "but I think we should do it this way," some part of me feels proud. He won't be anyone's doormat, right?

We want our kids to self-advocate. So when I ask my child to do something and he tells me to wait a minute I could feel satisfied. He knows how to stand up for himself!

But... no. When I tell my kids to do something, it turns out that I really want them to yell "Yes, Mom!" and go do it. The questions and debate could come after, if they'd like. I've spent some parenting time feeling guilty for this desire to have my children's unquestioning obedience. Then I realized that there are some good reasons to teach my kids to obey me.

First of all, their obedience is the ultimate proof of their trust in me. If my children can trust me to have their best interests at heart (and I believe they can), then they can show that trust by doing as I ask, even when my reasoning is not clear to them.

Second of all, this is a chance for them to honor me. Sounding too much like a Sunday school lesson? Bear with me. Honoring those we love is an important life skill. It will help them have healthier relationships, and it will teach our kids to expect, in turn, to be treated well. What about honoring them, you may well be asking? I will honor their individualism, their curiosity, their need to strike out on their own. But they do need to learn the skill of obeying, even if they don't always choose to employ it. Why?

This brings us to the third reason kids need the skill of obeying. In our country, in our century, life-threatening situations don't come up often. Unfortunately however, life-threatening moments do come up in many lives and almost certainly when we least expect it.

What will you do if there is a fire in your home one night? If you wake your older child and tell them to get a younger sibling and take them out a window or downstairs and across the street? Will they obey without debate? What if you have to say (heaven forbid) "Leave the dog," or "Go without me," will they do it?

What will happen if you are walking down the street and someone dangerous comes towards you? Will your children hear "that tone" in your voice and follow you without question into a doorway or across the street away from your destination?

What will your kids do in the aftermath of a car accident? Hopefully, exactly what you tell them to do.

Our children need to learn to obey so that they, and we, can call upon it as needed. We can be proud of our self-advocating, critical thinkers. And we can be proud that sometimes they can subjugate their own desires, trusting their parents to give orders that matter.