Discipline, Respect and Obedience: An Unschooling Dad’s Perspective

A young boy once got into an argument with his mother. Insults flew, and in the heat of the moment, he gave her a shove, at which point his father stepped in – and flattened him. 

“Never treat your mother that way again!” he bellowed, “Or you’ll be answering to me!”

Sadly, this “do as I say and not as I do” type of parenting doesn’t usually get the result we’re looking for – an increase in respectful, obedient behavior. Instead, it alienates us from our children, and fails to model healthy, respectful interactions. It leaves our kids knowing what not to do, without giving them any inkling of how to do better.

Below are my husband Ted’s reflections on the traditional, authoritarian parenting approach and why it fails to teach the very things it claims are the most important.

Discipline, Respect and Obedience

by Ted Olson

Many of us parents have a traditional view of discipline, respect, and obedience. That is, children must be taught to obey and to respect their elders. Discipline measures vary, but range from time-outs to spanking.

Many of us grew up in homes where kids were to be seen and not heard. While our physical needs were usually taken care of, our emotional and spiritual needs were trampled. It was lights out because “I said so!” and “Let’s go, hurry up!” It was “Sit still for Pete’s sake!” and, “Stop crying, before I really give you something to cry about.”

What was all this saying? It was saying that us kids were not important. That we were not good enough, fast enough, or smart enough. That what we were doing when our parents commanded, “Let’s go!” was of little importance. That our feelings and desires were secondary.

As parents we love our kids. We want what’s best for them. But we suffer under the influence of cultural practices, traditions, and expectations. We raise our kids how we were raised. We never question it, dooming us to repeat the same harmful patterns.

When we have the courage to look beneath the surface, however, we find that this kind of parenting is driven by thinking that needs to be re-examined:

Fear – many  of us discipline and demand obedience because we’re worried what others will think. My goodness, can’t this guy control his kids? Discipline for this reason is worthless. It will do nothing but make kids feel like dirt for being kids. Kids are enthusiastic, inquisitive, curious, excited. The list is long. Can they be expected to sit still in church? I still can’t. When we make what others think the most important factor in our parenting, we sacrifice our relationship with our children.

Control – we also discipline for control. We demand respect not so much to teach, but because we enjoy the control. We take pleasure in it. It puffs us up. We love it when our children do what we say just like when a dog comes when called. Yeah! We did this parenting thing right!  But this desire for control is toxic. Our children are not dogs, or prisoners of war. They are fellow human beings, and they rely on us to model healthy relationships, not a family-sized dictatorship.

Superiority – we assume because we’re bigger, faster, and smarter that we must always be right. Kids simply can’t compete with our wisdom and experience, so they should be summarily dismissed. Yet kids can speak profound truths into our lives, if we’re only willing to listen. They constantly remind us what’s important, and what our priorities should be. Daddy, why do you work so much? Daddy, can we play? They remind us that people and relationships are critical, a fact we adults are all too quick to forget.

Trust – some of us demand obedience because we do not trust that children will be respectful unless they’re made to be. We doubt the natural learning process. We abandon good modeling, relying instead on heavy-handed discipline to teach respect. But if we respect our kids – if we honor their wishes, needs, and desires daily, include them in family decisions, allow them the freedom to express who they are rather than what we want or expect – they’ll know respect on a much deeper level.

Misunderstanding – as parents, we live in an adult world burdened with adult thoughts. It’s a rational world. Our kids live in a magical world of wonder, discovery, joy, and curiosity. Yet we use rationality when we communicate. “Honey, you had your turn last week, so now it’s your sister’s” We might as well speak gibberish! Kids don’t speak “rational” – they speak emotion, passion, feelings, desires,and tactile pleasures – and this is wonderful! If we take the time to understand our kids’ hearts, we will discover who they are. We’ll be in a much better position, as partners, to help them on their journey in this thing called life. Rather than punish our children for the way they express their emotions, which is often the only way they know how, (or the only way they feel they can be heard), we can discover our own misunderstandings about our kids. We can meet them where they’re at – not where we expect them to be.

We don’t need to demand respect or obedience. We need to exemplify it. Despite what popular opinion states, respect and obedience are not taught. With the right heart and mind, it can be modeled. Then it will be earned. Kids are too smart. They know the real thing when they see it. And it doesn’t look like what most of us are doing.

In addition to being an unschooling dad, Ted is the voice behind HolisticFaith.com, where he writes about religion, faith, spirituality and life.


  1. cashdollar says

    Speak for yourself.

    While I agree I was raised in the kind of environment you generalize here in this post, that was then and this is now. I was raised by a single mother in the 80’s like many of my peers along with me (I’m 34 now). I think mostly all single mothers in those days acted like that. They still do to a point but I think it’s changing a little bit. And what I mean is with the Dads all disappearing out of the picture with the “deadbeat” witch hunt epidemic in full force, single mothers were made to think of themselves as victims by our government. People typically take the logical approach and assume fathers just out of the blue began to not care about their children after divorce. Magically men all together turned into a nation of deadbeats? Believe me there’s more than meets the eye. And it all starts with our currupt family law system.

    Anyhow off the beaten path and on to what you wrote about. I followed in my mothers footsteps to a point and am a fulltime single father myself. I left my kids mother when my daughter was 2. She was more or less out of her life except for occasional weekends until she disappeared entirely when my daughter was 4. She is 10 now.

    Firstly why are you using the word “We….” when describing parenting techniques? Are you in every household observing these generalizations? And are you a mindreader you claim to know exactly how “we” all approach parenting.

    For your information I don’t approach fatherhood like any of what you claim. Maybe you been spending too much time watching Jerry Springer or hanging out in the welfare line with all the angry single mothers with 4 kids hanging on them and her just having no control of them whatsoever with her angry mean commands and shitty attitude. While that does exist and since you used the word “we” I’m assuming what you wrote applies to you too. Or it did and you saw the light? I’m not sure.

    But to rehash:
    1. fear. Don’t tell me about what others are thinking and that controlling my parenting. I never ONCE ever let what others think of me affect how I disipline my child (or on the flip side have fun with her). In fact when I first left her mother my daughter was a mess. At the time she was hitting me and having the worst tamtrums of any child I’ve ever come across then or since. I never once no matter where we were at with a shopping cart full of food or at a fine dinner with food coming I already paid for or on a trip I just spend 2 hours driving to. If she pulled that shit and she was warned, I always follow through with what I say. ANd that was if the behavior continues, we’re leaving. End of story. And let me tell you when the decsion was met with more bullshit and I pulled the trigger, I had a kid that literally I drug out from whereever we were at. And I mean screaming like child abuse punching and hitting and … it was a mess. People staring at me like I was killing her. I had the cops called on me twice. My technique for this mess was to put her in the car and wait if she would calm down. Many times it didn’t work and I had to drive home with absolute madness in the back. There were many times I’d have to throw her in the shower with her clothes on just to knock her out of her trance.

    And once she did, we got her cleaned up, sat down, explained what happened, told her how much I loved her, and explained to her that that behavior will never ever work.

    And by 4 it more or less was gone. She doesn’t even remeber hitting me now. The thought of her hitting me is like almost laughable now. She doesn’t even know how to hit I don’t think the thought would never occur to her.

    And through these pains and embaressments (and lost money and time) I have been left with a daughter who listens to me. And when I tell her the consequences of her acting out, she knows I mean it. There are no empty threats here. It’s left me with almost never having to go through that shit now. I think if I just gave her whatever she wanted to shut her up when she was 2 and 3, not only would my life be hell now, she would be a fucking headcase. I can’t even imagine how she would of turned out.

    2. Control. Again you claim “we” but I am not a controlling person nor am I a controlling parent. There is a fine line between disipline and play. I mostly feel I got it figured out but sometimes I feel like I don’t know what to do. However it is one of my goals to let my daughter find herself. She recently told me she believed in Jesus because I guess she’s been talking to my mom or she heard it out and about. Do you know how bad I wanted to go “no chloe he’s not the son of god. He’s just a guy” and tell her what I THINK because that’s MY KID and how dare they get her all into that shit. Well no I didn’t do that. I told her okay well that’s good. Then she asked me what I thought. I told her exactly what I thought and followed it up with she can believe whatever she wants. She told me she was going with the scientific story. Probably less to do with what I believe and more to do with the fact that she is heavily engaged into science. Our favorite topic is astrophysics and watch documentaries all the time. She just finished a book written by Stephen Hawking for christ sake. Need I say more.

    3.Trust/ Superiority. Again, do not tell me how I parent my kid. While it is tempting to fall into this superiority thing and agreed I see many parents playing this role out totally disregarding their childrens thoughts and ideas, I refrain from this, within reason. Example. The other day I told her to “get that Johnny Test crap off it’s garbage” as she watched it on netflix. She then said to me “daddy you’ve never even seen it and you keep saying that it hurts my feelings”. And it occured to me that she’s right, I haven’t seen it. And it might be good. Who am I to say it’s garbage? It’s closeminded and mostly just ignorant. I told her she was right. But I still wanted her to turn it off. Lol. Also realize Daddy is “right” 99 times out of a 100. But I am not afraid to put aside my ego and tell her she is right when she is. In fact I apologize to her when this happens.

    misunderstanding – I think you are the one with the misunderstanding my friend. I would refrain from saying “we” and just saying “I” or “me” when telling us the wrongs of how we take on our parenting. You speak for an entire population and it’s insulting for someone to tell me things about me (we) that are completely not true. In fact I spend special attention to make sure these particular elements are NOT part of our life.


    • Nicole says

      Thank you for taking the time to read this article and to respond. This is my husband’s post, and I don’t want to speak for him. I just want to say that although you don’t agree with some (or maybe all) of what was written, it’s clear that we have one thing in common: a deep concern for our children. Your commitment to your daughter, and your desire for her well-being are evident throughout your response. I encourage you to keep reading, and keep engaging. If you disagree, by all means, share your perspective. Not one of us has all the answers, but as a group, we have much wisdom to offer one another.

  2. turnaround says

    Nice post, Ted! I think it’s great to hear an unschooling Dad’s perspective on respect and discipline, particularly since it seems to be an area that is really hard for some Dad’s (especially when new to unschooling) and can cause a lot of stress in marriages and family life in general. Hearing even one voice can be helpful to imagine a different path, so this is so important. Thank you!

    Re: Cashdollar- Can you see how you really agreed with everything Ted was saying, even as you bashed his approach? I hope you are able to re-read this post another time without getting so defensive and angry. Maybe there is some truth there about the kind of parent you don’t want to be any more, so you felt the article was written for you and it hurt…
    And so sad that you still feel justified in your abusive behavior toward your daughter when she was so small:
    Cashdollar: “I have been left with a daughter who listens to me. And when I tell her the consequences of her acting out, she knows I mean it. There are no empty threats here. It’s left me with almost never having to go through that shit now.”
    I certainly hope you continue to learn about more effective parenting strategies as she approaches her teen years. Children only “act out” when they are frustrated or something is not working for them.

    Ted: ” Rather than punish our children for the way they express their emotions, which is often the only way they know how, (or the only way they feel they can be heard), we can discover our own misunderstandings about our kids. We can meet them where they’re at – not where we expect them to be.”

    The teen years will challenge you much like those early years, and the controlling behavior you found so effective will probably not work as well as when she was 3. For those times when you “simply don’t know what to do,” this book, Positive Discipline for Teenagers, can be a great starting point. You can find it here:


    It sounds like you are trying to be a good parent with the tools you have at the moment. I hope you keep reading blogs like this one to help continue to shift your thinking to a more positive place.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *