Kaitlyn and I recently read The Little Prince together. As we were reading along, there were a lot of gems of wisdom throughout that I saw differently now that I am a parent. At one point, the little prince was talking to a king who boasted of being obeyed perfectly.
The little prince requested the king command the sun to set right then. The king replied,
“If I commanded a general to fly from one flower to the next like a butterfly, or to write a tragedy, or to turn into a seagull, and if the general did not carry out my command, which of us would be in the wrong, the general or me?”
“You would be,” said the little prince, quite firmly.
“Exactly. One must command from each what each can perform,” the king went on. “Authority is based first of all upon reason…I am entitled to command obedience because my orders are reasonable.” pages 30-31
This is precisely how we must look at our own authority as parents. We can not require obedience beyond the ability of our children. If we want obedience from our children, our orders need to be reasonable.
This is definitely easier said than done. We don’t always know what is reasonable. We don’t always have the correct level of expectations for our children. We often expect too much from some and too little from others. You also have the fact that children can rise to our expectations, so we should have high standards for them. So how do you know if your orders are reasonable or not?
If your child is constantly having issues being obedient, then your orders are not reasonable in some way. It might mean you have too high of expectations so your child is constantly failing to meet them (and will eventually stop trying to meet them). It can also mean your expectations are too low, resulting in your child having freedoms beyond her years to handle them. Either extreme will lead to behavior problems. For more on this, see Constantly Needing to Correct the Child.
Behavior problems are not the only sign that your commands might be off. Some children will bend over backwards trying to please their parents, no matter how monumental the task. If your child seems stressed or on edge, then you are likely giving commands that are not reasonable. If your child breaks down at the slightest hing of failure, evaluate your expectations. At some point, there will be some form of rebellion from these unreasonable commands, even if it is as minuscule as your adult child avoiding being around you (likely subconsciously).
Keep this quote in mind as you parent and make demands of your children. Remember to request what they can give you. Always be willing to evaluate and adjust what you are requesting, how that is being received, and what you might need to change. You will likely often get it wrong–that is a normal part of parenting. Do the best you can and stay humble about it all and it will work out.
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