Fostering a Spirit of Cooperation in Your Children
Our confidence as moms can easily get erroded when we get caught up in power struggles with
our children. These struggles can exhaust us and deplete our relationships. When we actually
think of the reality of the term “power struggles” when applied to our children, it is quite
laughable. In reality, children have no power. They can’t do or have anything unless it is
facilitated by the adults who are raising them. They can’t buy their food or pay for their own
home, water, electricity, or clothing. We, as parents, hold all the power, including the power to
give the love and approval our children so desperately crave from us. Yet because of our own
fears, woundedness, or past experiences, we often forget this (or use it in toxic, unnecessary
ways) and get drawn into unnecessary struggles with our kids. We lose our tempers and allow
things to escalate, causing us to get caught up in struggles rather than coming to a mutually
satisfying conclusion to the situation. When this happens, it shakes our confidence in ourselves
and weakens our greatest power, our connection to our child’s heart.
I see this frequently in discussions about obedience. Sometimes when our confidence is
waning, we think our children should immediately hop to and do exactly as they are told without
question. If the child hesitates, we might yell, lecture, and drain our emotional bank accounts
with our children over even small things. For example, I once saw a mom do this because her
daughter did not jump up immediately to get a can of peas from the basement when told to do
so. The mom yelled and accused her daughter of disrespect and rebelliousness. They fought for
three hours until the daughter was finally able to tell her mom that all she had wanted was to
finish the algebra problem she had been struggling with for over fifteen minutes before going to
get the peas.
In this example, both mom and daughter had a lot of other stressors. Additionally, they were
both tired and hungry. Almost every one of us has been in a situation like this at some time.
However, the mom went into the encounter with her mind preset to the idea that respect is
shown through servile obedience, causing her to escalate even more.
Servile obedience is the idea that someone of greater ranking is owed unquestioned and
immediate obedience (simple because of their title or rank), and any hesitation or disobedience
is met with harsh punishment. Servile obedience is very different than Christian obedience.
Christ taught us to obey God by making us (through His passion, death, and resurrection) His
friends and brothers/sisters. Through His love for us, He taught us how to love and serve Him in
return. We share in the dignity of God himself. Therefore we are all children of God, all meant to
be working toward closer union with God and each other. We are called to affirm and nurture
that dignity in one another, not lord power over each other. Seen in this light, obedience is really
another form of intimacy, where one person attentively seeks out the needs of the other and
lovingly fulfills them, often without being asked, certainly without being nagged.
Christian obedience, as opposed to servile obedience, presents a challenge to us. Obviously,
Christian obedience is a good and desirable thing, and yet we cannot demand obedience from
another (nor can we nag, whine, threaten, beat, or manipulate it out of someone) if it is to
remain true Christian obedience. In fact, there is only one way Christian parents can “command”
obedience from their children: the same way Jesus commands it of us, through an example of
For example, St Therese the Little Flower wrote in her Story of a Soul that she never wanted to
do anything to offend her parents because the love and service they showered upon her
compelled her to offer nothing less than her best behavior. Her parents taught their daughters to
serve the other members of the family by first setting the example of loving service to each
family member and then teaching them how to do the same.
When parents lead and instruct their children in this way, they are discipling their children to
uphold the dignity of each person and therefore foster a spirit of cooperation in the family that
allows each member to work for the good of each other member.
Practically speaking, instead of yelling and demanding, we are listening to each other, planning
so that everyone’s needs can be met, and helping each other live in a family of mutual love,
service, and cooperation.
When we train ourselves to listen to each other with our eyes and hearts as well as our ears we
can have a sense of what our family members need from us. It also helps us approach them with
our needs with respect and appreciation.
Planning as a family for some time to work, play, talk, and pray together, keeps us connected
and balanced, and helps us avoid the burnout that can lead to getting on each others nerves.
Moving into each phase of the day by first checking in with each others needs and hopes are for
that phase helps us each balance our expectations with the expectations and realities we need
to deal with and keeps us in sync with each other rather than stepping on each others emotional
If this way of life seems desirable, but you don’t know how to begin to implement it into your
family life, you can find help and support at CatholicHOM.com or the CatholicHOM app, as well
as Catholiccounselors.com. Additionally, you can listen and call into the More2life radio show
Monday thru Friday at 10 am eastern on Avemariaradio.net or EWTNradio.com.