Please stop asking the Old Lady at church to participate in your child’s disobedience



“Good morning, Johnny!” said the Old Lady at church.

Silence ensued, accompanied by a lowered brow which was followed up with a dodge behind mom’s leg.

“Say ‘hi,’ Johnny!” said the harried mom who was late, weighed down by an infant in a car seat and a diaper bag that didn’t want to stay on her shoulder.

More silence from Johnny, except for the almost imperceptible nasally sneer that came from his tiny frame as he peeked out from his defensive position to check that all eyes were still on him.  Mom was getting frustrated – she likes Old Lady and wants her to think well of Johnny, and her parenting, so she struggled to wrest the child from his hiding spot and coax little Johnny to say, “hi” to the smiling, waiting Old Lady.

But Johnny was having none of it.

As the seconds began to pile up with crushing pressure, Johnny became even more resolute and Mom was looking for any way possible to just get the scene over and done with.  So, with apologetic eyes (and heart) she spoke to Old Lady for Johnny and said, “We’re feeling a little shy today.”

To which the Old Lady at church was supposed to smile and say, “Oh, it’s OK, dear – don’t worry about it.  They all go through this stage.”

But she didn’t, and here is why.

She doesn’t want to participate in Johnny’s disobedience, and you shouldn’t either.

This mom’s answer on any given morning might have been “we’re still working on our manners,” or “we’re trying not to force him into social situations he’s uncomfortable with,” or “I keep trying to get him to talk with adults, but he just won’t,” or any number of other reasons she has allowed for Johnny not to do as she asked, but none of us is doing Johnny any favors if we allow him to persist.

While all of those things might be true (shyness, manners, social skill development, etc.) they are entirely beside the point.

Little Johnny was told to do something by his mother and he refused.  By making excuses for his behavior, Johnny is actually being trained to disobey her and she wanted desperately for the Old Lady at church to help her do it.  Sound familiar?

It is absolutely OK that Johnny is learning social skills and manners and even how to navigate social situations he is uncomfortable with.  But it is absolutely not OK for him to openly defy his Mom or Dad.

This may seem like a small and silly thing to write about, but it’s played out with such regularity, and is cousin to so many other ways we encourage disobedience rather than obedience that I sometimes want to shout out loud…  STOP THAT!!!!

It’s important that we think  through all of the little things about child-rearing in light of the Gospel.  We miss out on a million opportunities to disciple our kids when we don’t walk them through the steps of showing them their need.

In the example above, all could have been well if a couple of small changes had been made.  If mom knows that Johnny really is shy, she can practice with him before he goes in the door.  “OK, Johnny, what’s Old Lady at church going to do today?”  “Say, ‘Good Morning.'”  “Right!  And what should you say then?”  “Good Morning.”  “YES! That’s right! Let’s practice. Would you like Mommy to help you say ‘Good Morning’ to Old Lady today?”  And then when the scene plays out, Mom can say to Old Lady after she’s said her greeting, “It is a good morning Old Lady and Johnny and I have been practicing together our greetings to people.  Can you help us practice?”  Old Lady will be more than thrilled to help you, and says it again.  Mom helps reluctant Johnny (who maybe looks at Old Lady but then hides his face in mom’s neck.  At this point, Johnny is not disobeying because he hasn’t been told to do something, but he now has two adults helping him to learn an important skill.  Old Lady might say, “Oh, Johnny – I know it’s hard to learn how to do this but you keep practicing with Mommy and we’ll try again next week!”  No disobedience – all support.

What if Johnny is just not up-to-snuff on all those manners?  What better place to practice than in the company of Old Lady at church?  Mom and Dad can talk to Johnny ahead of time about this, too, and even do some play acting at home in preparation so that Johnny becomes comfortable with the exchange of greetings.  A similar request as above can be made of Old Lady when they walk in. Some coaching might be involved in the process, but that’s OK.  Making mistakes while learning is understandable and to be expected, but everyone involved is working towards Johnny’s good in this scenario.  Mom, Dad, and Old Lady can gladly participate in Johnny’s efforts to acquire skills to appropriately greet people he might not know very well, and he’s learning to honor people like Old Lady by speaking directly to her and not hiding behind someone’s leg.

You get the idea – find ways to prepare your little darling for what’s coming and what you expect their response to be.  Teach them why these things are important and that you expect them to obey you. Build into the situation a great likelihood that your child can succeed with what is being asked for in the routine of normal social situations, and don’t be afraid (or too proud) to ask for help from those around you who have journeyed far ahead of you on the road.  (And if you’re stumped about how to do that, ask Old Lady!)

It’s critical, Mom and Dad, that we take the discipleship of our children intensely seriously.  God doesn’t wink at or laugh at our sin – even our “childish” sin that is universally common.  He hates sin, and he has put his own son on a cross to remove it from his children.  Thankfully, we don’t have to make that kind of sacrifice for our sin or our children’s.  But in the end, if a rebellious and disobedient heart really is at the core of your little darling’s reluctance to obey you, then there is really nothing more important for you to address right there and right then – even if it is in front of Old Lady at church.  Take him to a private place, mete out whatever discipline is necessary, and come back and try again.  Old Lady will still be there, smiling and waiting, and cheering you on for being a phenomenal parent because you are taking the sinful heart of your beloved offspring as seriously as God does.

Next post, A Word about Liars…




4 responses »

  1. What about little ones on the autism scale? The more you force a social encounter, the more frustrating and exasperating the situation becomes as it blows itself out of proportion. You seem to think that disobedience is the core of the problem; but not consider that disability is a possibility. I see a lot of shy kids – and for them, it’s a strange world. Being taught that there’s such a thing as stranger danger, and yet being taught to greet everyone who is strange to them as if they’re not dangerous. Perhaps it’s the adults that are sending mixed messages.

    • Hi Jamie:

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I absolutely agree with you that disobedience is not necessarily at the core of this kind of scenario – at least it doesn’t necessarily start out that way. I actually think parents often unintentionally make it into one! And, for what it’s worth, I’m not even advocating that kids be forced into saying “hi” to everyone who says “hi” to them. The scenario I painted was one of familiarity, and we do need to teach kids to be polite and respectful, but I get it – some kids have a much harder time with this than others.

      Most of the parents I meet who have children with disabilities are keenly aware of what their kids can and cannot do. Parents of children with autism spectrum disorder (or some other issue that would make greeting someone exceedingly difficult) are daily going through all kinds of mental, social, and physical gymnastics to help their children learn to navigate the things they have trouble with. I think it would be rare for a parent with a child with these kinds of struggles to even put their child in the position of forcing the social encounter. They would be the ones to just tell Old Lady, “yeah – that’s probably beyond what we’re up to today,” or “Johnny doesn’t speak to people outside the family yet, but we’re working on it,” or whatever. It would be really unusual for a parent who has a child struggling so to say, “Say ‘hi’ to Old Lady, Johnny.” and really expect him to do it. So while I understand your sensitivity to their struggle, they are not the kids who are flat out refusing to obey their parents.

      What I’m trying to say is that if it’s important to you for your kids to greet people appropriately (and it is for most parents, and rightfully so when everything is clicking along pretty normally), then set your kids up for success rather than putting them in a position to get away with disobeying you – and then asking Old Lady to go along with it. If you have a very, very shy child, then help him or her while enlisting the help of Old Lady, too. It may take a whole year of working on it every single Sunday morning, but then you are all working together to help this little one learn something that you want them to learn. She will learn that you trust that Old Lady is safe to say hello to, we do this every Sunday, and you have confidence that your child can, too. That would be, “we’re working on this Old Lady – can you practice with us?” which is very different from “say ‘hi’ to Old Lady.” Some kids are shy, some are fearful, some are just introverted. Some don’t care for the noise, the hall-way small talk, or the seeming chaos that happens on Sunday mornings (or whenever). At some point even kids who are shy, or fearful, or introverts need to learn to navigate these kinds of things, and what I’m trying to say, and perhaps didn’t say as clearly as I’d hoped, is that it’s better for you and your child if you have Old Lady on your side and helping you than it is to set the situation up for your child to disobey you and asking Old Lady to wink and say, “Oh, don’t worry, it’s OK.”

      It IS OK for kids to need time and help to learn social skills. And kudos to every mom and dad who struggles through the long and arduous process of helping them grow into confident adults who possess both skills and graces. But it’s NOT OK to ask your child to do something and then do nothing if they don’t obey. If we know a child can’t do what we’ve asked them to do, we probably shouldn’t be asking them to do it – that is setting them up for failure. But if we ask them to do something we know they can do, and they don’t do it, then we must follow through with loving discipline, as the Bible says every good parent should. The older ladies in your circles are some of your best, but most under-used, assets. Glean everything you can from them. They’ve been where you are, they’ve navigated the same hard roads, and they’ve lived to tell – and teach – the story.

      I hope this clarifies things more and is helpful. Please feel free to comment again, and every blessing on your parenting efforts. God, who has entrusted you with a most valuable human soul, will also provide everything you need to parent him or her well.


      • Something about all of this … it reminds me of the video I just watched about how to host a formal tea party for young women set in the 1940s;
        I’m just glad that we don’t have to worry about the formal introductions and ideas about greeting protocol that existed back in the day. I had always assumed that kids were like sponges who watch what we do and then replicate it. If your kids don’t see you greeting *everyone*; then they’re less likely to try to emulate that. Instead of trying to push the little ones into a social situation they wouldn’t see you interact in, perhaps the best thing to do is to set the example. Perhaps explain the whats and the whys.

  2. Wow, that video is a throw back! I’m glad we aren’t constrained by all the same rules and expectations, too. 🙂 You’re right, Jamie – leading by example and giving explanations is the best way to teach our children almost everything! It’s a “come follow me and learn from me as I follow Jesus,” discipleship that is precisely the kind of parenting I am describing. The blog post was not really about greetings and introductions – I was simply using that as an example of one of the (many) ways that parents unintentionally get into a situation where they don’t really expect their kids to obey them – or they’re unwilling to follow through once disobedience has happened. And as an older woman who encounters situations like this weekly I wanted to use a very relate-able experience to make the point. I’m not the least bit ruffled if a child doesn’t greet me on a Sunday morning. But if their mom or dad told them to, and they refuse, then I’m not going to stand there and say it’s OK, either. It’s not about the greeting (or the lack thereof). It’s about the child’s disobedience.

    I’m sure some will think obedience is antiquated, too, just like the video you shared. But since I believe that the Bible teaches that obedience to God-given authority is actually a blessing to the child, it’s my role at this point to help parents train their children to obey. It’s a training ground for learning to obey God as an adult, and that brings joy.

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