Yesterday, I forgot my keys and was temporarily locked out my own house. I had my 8-year-old son with me and he really had to use the bathroom (I’ve learned that kids always have to use the bathroom at the least convenient times). I told him to just go to a neighbor’s house, but he said it was an emergency and he would just “go in the woods.” We have a small, wooded lot between our house and our neighbor’s house, so I thought it wouldn’t be a big deal for him to go behind some trees and do his business.
Apparently, he didn’t want to walk all the way into the woods, because when I looked over my shoulder, he was standing on the sidewalk emptying his bladder. I quickly look around to see if any of my neighbors are witnessing this redneck moment. To my dismay, there were plenty of eye witnesses. I was thankful he was too young to be arrested for indecent exposure.
Our next-door neighbors are in the process of selling their house, and their realtor was standing in their driveway with a sweet young family holding a baby and checking out the neighborhood. I think we made a less-than-stellar first impression on these potential new neighbors! I actually apologized to the homeowners who are good friends of ours and said, “Yeah, I’m pretty sure we prevented a house sale for you guys. We’ll try to make a better impression next time.”
I talked to our son afterward and said, “Buddy, you can’t pee on the sidewalk.” (This isn’t the “one rule” stay tuned…) To me, this potty guideline is pretty self-explanatory and not really something that needs to be debated, but in his eight-year-old brain, it seemed to make perfect sense to pee on the sidewalk, so he started debating with me.
Finally, I reminded him there’s only one rule he needs to live by at this point in his life and he was failing at the one rule by continuing to argue with me about this.
I reminded him that his only responsibility is to follow one single rule: OBEY WITH A GOOD ATTITUDE.
Sometimes, we make the mistake of bargaining with our kids or trying to use adult reasoning with our kids instead of reminding of the standard and their responsibility to honor it even when they don’t understand it.
As our children grow through adolescence and into adulthood, our relationship and parental authority will evolve into more of a mentoring relationship and then eventually (hopefully) into a friendship in adulthood, but when our children are young, we don’t need to overcomplicate the expectations. Of course, we should explain things to them and look for teachable moments, but the bottom line is they’re not going to understand all the reasons why they have to do something, and they don’t have to understand. All they really have to do is to obey with a good attitude.
This one rule has two vital parts: Obedience and Respect. Without both parts, we’ve missed the point of parenthood. A child can obey with a bad attitude or a child can have a positive attitude while being disobedient, but either way, they’ve missed the mark. When we teach our kids to obey with a good attitude, we’re training their young hearts to develop the right habits, so that as they grow in maturity and start reasoning through more decisions on their own, they’ll be more likely to make responsible choices in adulthood.
I’m the first to admit that there are MANY times I’ve failed to properly teach and enforce this one rule and there have been MANY times my kids have failed to follow it, but when the standard is this simple and consistently communicated, I’m convinced it will keep our kids on the right track. I’m comforted by the timeless parenting wisdom from the Book of Proverbs in the Bible which says, “Train children in the way they should go, and even when they are old, they won’t depart from it.”