I wonder why my children do not obey me better?

(John Abbott, "The Christian Mother", 1833)

Obedience is absolutely essential to proper family government.
Without this, all other efforts will be in vain. You may pray with,
and for your children; you may strive to instruct them in religious
truth; you may be unwearied in your efforts to make them happy,
and to gain their affection. But if they are in habits of disobedience,
your instructions will be lost, and your toil in vain. And by obedience,
I do not mean languid and dilatory yielding to repeated threats--but
prompt and cheerful acquiescence to parental commands. Neither is
it enough that a child should yield to your arguments and persuasions.
It is essential that he should submit to your authority.

The first thing therefore to be aimed at, is to bring your child under
total subjection
. Teach him that he must obey you. Sometimes give
him your reasons; withhold them at other times. But let him perfectly
understand that he is to do as he is told. Accustom him to immediate
and cheerful acquiescence to your will. This is obedience. And this is
absolutely essential to good family government. Without this, your
family will present one continued scene of noise and confusion--the
toil of rearing up your children will be almost intolerable--and, in all
probability, your heart will be broken by their future licentiousness or

Never give a command which you do not intend shall be obeyed!
There is no more effectual way of teaching a child disobedience, than
by giving commands which you have no intention of enforcing. A child
is thus habituated to disregard its mother; and in a short time the
habit becomes so strong, and the child's contempt for the mother so
confirmed, that entreaties and threats are alike unheeded.

"Mary, let that book alone," says a mother to her little daughter,
who is trying to pull the book from the table.

Mary stops for a moment, and then takes hold of the book again.

Pretty soon the mother looks up and sees that Mary is still playing
with the book. "Did not you hear me tell you to let that book alone?"
she exclaims: "Why don't you obey?"

Mary takes away her hand for a moment, but is soon again at her
forbidden amusement. By and by, down comes the book upon the
floor. Up jumps the mother, and hastily giving the child a passionate
blow, exclaims, "There then, obey me next time!" The child screams,
and the mother picks up the book, saying, "I wonder why my
children do not obey me better?

This is not a very interesting family scene, but every one of my
readers will admit that it is not an uncommon one. And is it
strange that a child, thus managed, should be disobedient? No!
She is actually led on by her mother to insubordination--she is
actually trained to pay no heed to her directions. Even the improper
punishment which sometimes follows transgression, is not inflicted
on account of her disobedience, but for the accidental consequences.
In the case above described, had the book not fallen, the disobedience
of the child would have passed unpunished. Let it be an immutable
principle in family government--that your word is law!

The principle of government is simple and plain. It is to begin with
enforcing obedience to every command. It is to establish the principle
that a mother's word is never to be disregarded. Every judicious mother
will, indeed, try to gratify her children in their reasonable wishes. She
will study to make them happy; but she will never allow them to gratify
themselves in contradiction to her wishes.