We had an experience last week, out in public, in which I was the recipient of compliments about my parenting, specifically about my "obedient" children. The person who provided me with this praise (and not once either) was super-impressed with my well-behaved children and just couldn't tell me enough about how awesome of a mom I must be.
She even asked my daughter, who happened to be sort of sitting on her hands, "Are you sitting on top of your hands so that you will behave?" (Morgan just looked at the lady. Maybe she heard her; maybe not. No telling.) Apparently this lady missed the part of our visit where Morgan was hiking her dress up in the front for several minutes (no, she wasn't going commando--I think I've broken her of that habit finally).
Now I think it's nice when people think I'm an awesome mom and all, but I'd be misleading you if I said that my kids are always well-behaved in public (or, as noted above, even wearing underwear). I'd also be misleading you if I said that my kids are obedient, or that obedience as such was something that I expect from my children (which you'll know if you know me in person or follow my blog).
So this leads me to my Parenting Thought of the Moment: Lots of people--well-meaning, very nice people--seem to equate a well-behaved child with an obedient child.
And this is what I'd like to say about: it does not follow that a well-behaved child is an obedient child. Certainly, an obedient child will be well-behaved in public (else they'd be disobeying). But all well-behaved children are not necessarily obedient or are being raised by parent-by-authority parents.
And also, I think it's more than a little difficult to accurately judge someone's parenting skills or how well-behaved their kids are in five minutes. (Keep that in mind when you see someone with a screaming toddler at the grocery store.)
The reason I think most people link good behavior with obedience is because the premise Children Ought to Obey their Parents (and Most Other Adults, Too) is rarely questioned. It's a corollary of another premise that is rarely challenged: Children Who Are Not Punished Will Never Learn to Behave.
Maybe we'll disagree about this, and that's okay with me. But I hope anyone reading this will be spurred on to question these premises just a tiny bit.
I consider my kids pretty typically-behaved. Not perfectly behaved in every single situation, but they generally do fine.
Here's an example of a behavior thing we're working on with the little one: helping him learn to regulate the volume of his voice in public situations (well, we're honestly still working with the older one a bit on this, too).
I'm confident he'll improve, even if it continues to challenge him for years, as it continues to challenge the older one. And that improvement in his behavior will happen without punishments, rewards, or any expectation (explicit or implicit) of obedience. (Hooray, Positive Discipline!) In fact, he has already made improvements in this area, and his brother is light-years ahead of where he was when he was very small.
So, to sum up, a well-behaved child is not necessarily obedient (and if you know my kids, they are anything but obedient-for-the-sake-of-being-obedient). And, to quote Ayn Rand, "Check your premises."