My Kids Won't Obey

Q How can we encourage our kids to be more obedient to me and my husband?

— B. F.

Fort Worth, Texas

A In Christian life, we obey a loving Father. In the same way, it's critical that your kids see you as loving parents. It's easier, and it makes sense, to obey a loving father and mother. It's intolerable and burdensome to obey a tyrant — so eventually we rebel. We don't grow weary, however, of obeying someone we love.

Families are not a democracy, but should be like the Church: overflowing with fellowship. If we are asking our children to obey us, then our part of the deal is to motivate them. In fact, if you aren't willing to motivate them to do what you're asking, then it's probably not something important anyway.

A climate of love encourages everyone to do good for each other. It's easier to make commitments to someone we love.

Of course, love implies order. But love is always primarily personal. As Christians, we obey a person — Christ or one of our parents — and not merely a set of laws.

Some parents use punishment to try to foster conformity. Used by itself, however, punishment only decreases behaviors they don't want to see in their children. It does-n't build positive behaviors. It can teach kids to resent being caught, or to respect force more than love.

Of course, there are times when it's important to stop negative behaviors even if we can't build up something positive at the same time. We need to remember, though, that it's important to find ways to foster the virtue of obedience.

This doesn't imply there should be a lack of consequences for wrongdoing — though consequences work best when they are as close as possible to natural results. But to foster obedience we not only want to stop disobedience, we want to motivate our children to overcome their will and to follow God's and ours. This requires a change of heart.

In my last column I mentioned Dr. John Gottman's studies. He discovered that between spouses in successful marriages there has to be about a 5-1 ratio of good, supportive statements and interactions to negative ones. Psychologist Gary Gintner says that for teens and parents the ratio has to be 3-1 in favor of positive comments. So, clearly, we don't have the luxury to pile critical or punishing comments on our kids if we want our homes to be uplifting, supportive and successful.

Christianity always starts and ends with love. As St. Paul tells us, without love we are just sounding gongs (1 Corinthians 13:1). Ask your kids if they see you and your spouse as loving, or if they see you as tyrannical. And tell them their obedience is important to you and that you're willing to change to help them learn to obey.

Art A. Bennett is a licensed marriage, family and child therapist.