“The mother who takes pains to endow her children with good habits secures for herself smooth and easy days.”
Charlotte Mason, English educator in the late 19th century
Last month we worked on the habit of manners and obedience. Monday morning when my kiddos came downstairs they found me cutting little charts to tape to the wall. We had done this a couple of years ago so the kids were familiar with the charts. We call them “O.K. Dad O.K. Mom” carts. (Terribly exciting I know.) The idea is simple: Each time they say “O.K Mom” or “O.K. Dad” They got to color in a square. “Please put your shoes away.” “O.K. Mom!” “Can you hand me the baby wipes?” “O.K. Mom!” We do not require this response from them. We were encouraging the extra steps they were taking when they acknowledged that they were being spoken to and used self-control in those difficult moments.
When we played this game two years ago I had a prize box and used stickers to fill in the spaces. Each time they completed a row they got to pick something out of the box. This time we were much less fancy. We just used crayons instead of stickers, and we didn’t have a prize box. (Although my competitive daughter thought it prize enough to beat her brothers to the end of the row!)
We do not expect that our kids always obey without question, as long as they ask questions respectfully and accept the response. “Hey kids! It is time to clean up.” “Can I have 5 more minutes, Mom?” Then- whatever my answer-they should respond with self control. We described this kind of good-mannered obedience as cheerful (Looking back I would have used the word “joyful” not “cheerful”. “Cheerful” is not always possible-nor is it how we are called to obey.) quick and complete. If they said “O.K. Dad” but stomped off in anger or never got around to the task, they didn’t get to fill in the square.
The experience was positive for us. The spirit of obedience and good manners seems to be contagious. The kids encouraged each other. I felt like I repeated myself less because I knew that they heard me the first time. They got into it and made up situations and question in order to get a chance to say “O.K. Mom,” but I was fine with that. They thought that they were pulling one over on me, but we were working on the attitudes and habit. The more often they got did it the better! (The only thing I put a halt on was the competition.)
I have read the articles against obedience. (Wouldn’t our grandparents have been shocked?) The argument is that they want their children to learn to think not to obey. I am not interested in getting too deep into that argument, but only to say that I do not find these two to be mutually exclusive. Watch my daughter (yes, the competitive one!) receive an instruction and anyone can see her thinking and processing. Obedience takes thought too, but obedience also takes trust either in the authority or the God who put the authority there.
I learned a lot from this little exercise. I must be worthy of the trust I am asking them to have when they don’t understand. I also realized how many instructions I give my kids. There are A LOT of things that I ask of them in a day. It made me appreciate why they might grow tired of hearing my voice. I experienced the twinge of guilt when they would ask for something and my attitude was not joyful. I set the example of good manners in my response. Even more than a silly game, they are watching my response to this as well.