"OBAYFUSSENDENKINTAK!" came the shrill voice of my darling toddler. Always up for a good mystery, I followed the shrieking to it's pint-sized source. "OBAYFUSSENDENKINTAK!" Whatever that meant, she was serious about it. At nearly 2 years of age, little Claire usually spoke quite plainly, but I couldn't make heads or tails out of this exclamation. She had evidently decided that the toy in Seth's hand needed to be in her hand, as evidenced by her dimply little white knuckles wrapped around said toy while she leaned with all 24 pounds away from her older brother. Oh, I'm such a sleuth. As I came in the room, she began to jerk the toy. "OBAY! FUSSEN! DEN! KIN! TAK!" she chanted. And it dawned on me. "Obey first. Then we can talk." She had heard it so often she thought it was what you said when you wanted someone to change their behavior. Yep. I say that a lot.
Delayed obedience isn't really obedience at all. Our children can ask or tell us anything, as long as it is done respectfully, and AFTER indicating their intent to obey. My kids seem to want to answer in any number of ways when they receive an instruction from me or their dad. "Why?" is a favorite. "I don't want to" is fairly bold, but a couple of them have been known to try it. "But I was just..." happens a lot, as though my instructions would have been different if I had been aware of their agenda. All of those responses indicate an unwillingness to be immediately and completely compliant with my instructions, and are therefore unacceptable. Acceptable responses include, "Okay, Mom" and "Yes, Ma'am" and my favorite, though no one is willing to use it yet, "Here am I. Send me". But that last one could be a teensy bit over the top.
There are times when a child is so sure that if I just knew about their particular extenuating circumstance, then I would no doubt impose the accursed assignment (read: vacuum the music room) on another, more deserving sibling. For that reason, I will accept the following response one time: "Okay mom, but can I tell you something?" That says to me that they indeed intend to carry out my instructions but they think that they have information which might change my mind. I must say that, a time or two, they've been right. More often that not, however, I've anticipated their thinking (shrewd woman that I am) and taken it into account beforehand. There are times when I don't let them "tell me something", such as when time is an issue. I will say, "We don't have time. Please do as you're told." At which point, if they are wise, they will obey. If they are not wise, well, a great sadness will come upon the land, with weeping and gnashing of teeth. So to speak.
You see, I gave up a long time ago trying to cajole my children into agreeing that this or that thing is a good idea. I also don't negotiate with toddlers, teens or terrorists. I read the phrase, "Obey first. Then we can talk" in one of my favorite parenting books, Say Goodbye to Whining, Complaining and Bad Attitudes...in you and your kids!" by Turansky and Miller of The National Center for Biblical Parenting, and I knew I had hit on something that would work in our family. This article by Joanne Miller does a great job of summarizing this principle, if you'd like to read more about it. The bottom line is that I want my children to obey me the first time and without arguing because I think that this ability is central to their success as adults, but more importantly I think that cultivating this character quality prepares them to follow God wherever He may lead, and that is where the rubber meets the road.