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For Your Marriage

Josh and Stacey Noem have been married for almost 20 years and have three children in middle school and high school. They blog about parenting and their adventures as a family.

Non-Violent Disobedience and the Pre-Schooler

Simon’s latest form of resistance to a command to do something he doesn’t want to do is to go utterly passive, to crumple in a heap. I try to stand him up and he won’t put his feet under him, he just slinks to the floor.

This really, really pushes my buttons. It usually happens when we need to put our shoes and coats on to leave the house to pick someone up. It is time to go and he turns into an unresponsive sack of jello.

It frustrates me to no end, and in the past it has resulted in me either carrying the sack of jello to the car and sullenly wrapping a seatbelt around it; or moving on to something else hoping that he snaps out of it. Either way, it throws the next two hours off course in terms of the family dynamic—it obviously isn’t working.

Stacey and I talked about it and I expressed my frustration and helplessness. She reminded me that the reason Simon does that is because it works. He either wears me down and gets his way, or we go about our business without his participation.

It reminds me that children are little bundles of selfishness. The recent animated movie, Despicable Me, gets it all wrong. In that story, three altruistic and angelic girls enter the life of a selfish adult and he converts to selflessness. The reality is the opposite. Parents strive for selflessness and are blessed with children who think the world revolves around them.

Before you label me as cynical, let me say that I truly find hope here. We all have a stated goal to be selfless and good, but adults have many layers of self-deception. Young children are very effective in breaking through that self-deception because they exist in a perpetual state of need. They are a constant demand for self-gift, and an opportunity to shape ourselves towards selflessness in a definitive way.

My experience of family life has been that it is an ever-present opportunity to grow in perfection. I can’t say that I’m perfect, but I know that God is leading me there in this family. Or at least dragging me there, sometimes kicking and screaming.

So, my new approach with Simon has been to employ natural consequences. If we are heading out the door and he turns into a sack of jello, I will refrain from frustration and simply clearly state that if he does not join us, we will leave the house to get in the car and drive away and he will be stuck at home. I then move to the car with everyone else and turn off the lights. He has begun reluctantly trudging behind.

My sanity is saved, we don’t throw the family off course with a tantrum (from me or from him), and he is getting the point that he has to be a participant in the life of the family.

The only question is what will happen when he calls my bluff and is willing to stay home alone. I guess I’ll cross that bridge when we get there.