The very first lesson in homeschool is not how to write your name or recognize your ABC’s. The very first lesson is obedience, because without it, no other lesson works very well. A child must learn to listen and obey. First time. Without reminders, without excuses, without mom counting to 3!
Most of us still feel like teenagers when our first child is suddenly ready for school! We’re trying very hard to keep the crown of authority in parenthood from slipping right off our head and crashing to the ground. It doesn’t fit very well—we don’t feel adequate for the job. But like it or not, we are in charge of our precious children! God has given us that responsibility and, ready or not, we must grown into the position. Mom, you’re in charge!
Children are in tune to family dynamics. They notice when there is some hesitancy in taking charge of the children. If you don’t feel ready to rule the roost, a child is eager and willing to bump you off your throne and climb up there himself! And that is a very scary home to live in, where family life can be run by a 5-year-old. When Daddy leaves for work, Mom is the sole person in charge, and the children need to feel it. It makes life so much more secure for kids to have very distinct expectations! “For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?” (1 Corinthians 14:8)
So, the first lesson of homeschooling is the lesson of whose word is law, and who must obey. Teach it well!
I want to assure you that I completely believe in being a benevolent, kind, loving, and compassionate director. But ruler Mom must be, if there is to be peace, order, and learning going on in the home. Mom has to set out the expectations, and teach her children to obey her. If you are a tender mother, this doesn’t come easy. It is more natural to be easy-going, to overlook mild disobedience, and to make excuses for our children (she’s shy, he forgets his manners, he’s a “real boy”, etc.) But just as the little sapling tree grows into a rigid, immovable giant oak, so will your little ones develop habits that are nearly unbreakable by the pre-teen and teenage years. A gentle, insistent and constant nudge in the right direction now will make the man later.
Of course, we want our children to learn academics, but the most important lessons have to do with character training and habits, and learning to control oneself. Be constant in the way you act, Mom. You are modeling what you want your children to act like. Be happy, smile, be a friend—but be in control. Be ultra dependable. Make sure they know that you are not to be meddled with, and that if you say it, it will surely come to pass. Don’t break promises. Better yet, don’t make promises. If you can’t absolutely be certain you are taking them swimming today, don’t promise it. Breaking your word makes your rules less easy to obey (perhaps you’ll change your mind on the rules, too). Create a home environment of trust, security, clear cut rules and consequences. Don’t let the child who whines get their way. Never never let crying, fighting, meanness, impatience or coaxing pay off. Enjoy your children and laugh with them and be their favorite person. Don’t accidentally reward any smidgen of negative behavior (with either your attention, or letting them getting their way). Children sense what is right and fair and they will respect you for not overlooking or brushing off infractions. You must convince them by your lessons and by your own behavior, that good things come to those who behave, and obey Mom and the family rules. When you have done this, not only will they be great students, but they will be good family members that you enjoy being around, and eventually good citizens and emissaries for Christ!
I watched the elephants when I was a young mother, and they influenced me greatly. The elephant mother is quite peaceful and even-tempered. She moves slowly and doesn’t get easily agitated. All goes perfectly well until her baby misbehaves! I watched a movie about elephants walking across the savannah in Africa. They were moving steadily along, in line, with other elephants, when a baby elephant stepped out of the line, wandering the other direction. He only got a couple of steps away, when suddenly, Mother Elephant powerfully reached out with her trunk and slapped the baby back into line. The baby was stunned, but by the time he recovered and looked up, the mother was back to her peaceful steady self. No hard feelings. No lectures. No grudges. No frowns. Just immediate consequences that a baby could easily learn to avoid. I was impressed.
This kind of discipline seemed so healthy to me, that I tried to be that mother elephant for my kids. Mom is happy, smiling, playful, and easy to be with. No nagging. No lectures. No frowning especially! Then when the child moves out of line, she acts swiftly to correct it, never raising her voice, but making perfectly sure that her child knows exactly what is expected and that what he did was not okay. Then immediately, it is back to sunshine, acceptance, love, and a happy mood. No good is done by being in a bad mood, harboring ill feelings, drawing out punishment, or repeating lectures. Children are learning, they are practicing, and we should expect them to push the limits and try out breaking the rules. To see if they really are rules and if the consequences really will happen. That is how they learn. If it never, ever pays to disobey, they will learn more quickly. The children will stop fighting—because you have engineered it so the consequences are just not worth it. They won’t have to be told twice, because they know after you say it once, if they don’t move to action, you’ll be right there, making sure they do just what you asked them to, and there will be consequences. Eventually, all you have to do is just “look” like you are going to get up and they’ll run to obey. My kids laugh about that at my house. If I made a sudden move, the children all would hop to. This has been a very effective way to parent, and to get cooperation in the home.
Every child needs to feel that Mom is their best friend, and always on their side. Wouldn’t life be lonely and frightening without that? I tried to never put enmity between us—it was important for me that my child knew I was always on his side, commiserating with him that he had to live with the consequence of breaking the law. I wanted my children to know that I had to keep the rules too, and that we were hand-in-hand in life, trying to learn to live the rules and not suffer the consequences. I felt bad when he didn’t obey, not mad at him, but sad that he had to live with the consequence, because I truly felt that way. I cried with him. I wanted my child to know that my love extended to compassion for him suffering the consequence of disobedience. I often set the timer, and used the timer as the enemy, rather than me being at odds with my child: “Oh no! Hurry and get ready, it is going to ring and then we won’t be able to play a game before bed! Hurry, hurry–I want to play with you!”
As children learn to obey you, things will run so much more smoothly and more happily. Homeschooling will be a pleasure—time you share with your best friends, to learn and do and enjoy together. It will cease to be so much effort or fight to make kids do what they are supposed to. Cooperation turns a job into joy.
Obedience. The most important lesson God wants us to learn here on earth is to obey Him. The very first lesson that children need to learn in the home is to obey you, who God has placed at their head. It makes for a very happy family life.