My Grandfather was a hardworking, honest man who raised ten children on a farm in Boise, Idaho. He often said something that stuck with my father, “I can be talked into about anything, but I don’t push worth a damn.”
This is the nature of a free man or woman. We have a will so that we can make moral choices. If that right is taken from us, we have good reason to dig in our heels.
The poet Samual Butler wrote,
He that complies against his Will,
Is of his own Opinion still;
If someone resorts to pushing, often it is because they don’t have an convincing argument. Dictators and governments throughout time have pushed and compelled their subjects. Sometimes out of “well-meaning” compassion, probably more often out of self-interest. But minds are rarely changed through pushing. Often anger and resentment simmers underneath from such interference of our God-given free-will.
As Dostoyevsky famously explained, “The whole work of man really seems to consist in nothing but proving to himself every minute that he is a man and not a piano key.”
We, as parents, need to minimize our pushing. Sometimes it may be necessary- across a busy street or into a car seat – but we should, at as young an age as possible, begin taking the time to “talk them into things”. In previous generations parents often expected obedience without question. Moderns parents seem to have given up on obedience altogether.
But what parents across time should desire is to raise children who are obedient to moral truth. We as parents set boundaries and rules and should expect obedience from children. Not “because we said so”, but because our rules and boundaries are reasonable (can be reasoned) and we are responsible for raising our children.
The truth is convincing to kids. If we explain our reasons for 8:30 bedtime they will probably still push back, but we won’t be a tyrant – a tyrant never gives his reasons. We must give the truth time to work in our children – it may take years for our more stubborn children to be talked into reason but we are placing a voice of conscience into their minds.
Often if we describe a difficult scenario to our kids and ask them what they would do, they can describe the moral path out. If they can’t, we can explain what they might do. The more we do this the better, they will have played out their responses in advance. When the time of moral choice comes, they have already worked out their choice.
If we find our relationship with a child strained, it may be that we are pushing too much and not convincing enough. This does not mean we let them do what they want, it means we give truth a chance. We speak with them honestly and openly about the reasons, the consequences, the long-term repressions of their choices. If kids understand the why, they are much more likely to make the right choice. Children are still humble and teachable. They are adaptable. However they, like we, will do all they can to resist being played like a piano key.