Parenting to build relationships, not robots

Is raising obedient (or well-behaved) children the goal of your parenting?

fostering trust with your children

At times Levi has hit me out of anger. He’s disobeyed, ignored me, thrown himself on the floor in protest, turned his back on me, run away from me, chucked food across the kitchen, banged his head on the floor, kicked and flailed. The list goes on…

As a parent, I have several times a day where I am disrespected – my advice is not taken, my instructions not headed, my preferences ignored, my space invaded, my timetable turned upside-down, my affections refused, my attention demanded instead of requested…

I could carry around a lot of offense if I allowed myself to internalize these behaviors. After all, as an adult each of these behaviors communicate disrespect.

But you see, I’m parenting a two year old.

I’ve had 34 years to learn polite behavior, how to honor people, and how to communicate value and worth.

He’s had 28 months.

So right now, as I parent my spirited, independent, opinionated, and absolutely delightful toddler I must remember that he’s still new at this business of relating to others.

I must remember that he’s still learning that the world doesn’t actually revolve around him.

And I must remember that the very boundaries and behaviors that are so normal and second nature to me are the same ones that are completely new and foreign to him.

So what do I focus on in these early days? Teaching him obedience? Teaching him to respect? Teaching him to heed my advice?


I focus on teaching him that he can trust me.

make trust the goal of your parenting

Think about it for yourself – who do you trust in your life?

Your measure of trust in a person will determine how much you listen to them, receive their guidance, and heed their advice. Trust determines whether or not you will follow them. Trust establishes how you will treat them and how much you will receive them into your life.

If in the early days, my children learn to trust me wholeheartedly – that even though I screw up sometimes I always have the best intentions, that I’m here for them, that I’ll listen and respond to their needs (even when it’s inconvenient), that our family boundaries are in place to serve them and help them flourish, that their input and contribution is important and valuable, and that I’ll take the time to help them sort through and learn to manage all of their wild and pumping emotions – then maybe, just maybe that pattern will continue through childhood, the volatile teen years, and into adulthood.

(Oh, what most parents would give to have trusting teenagers! Right?)

But If I focus all of my parenting efforts on training my boys to obey me, what have they learned? That who ever is in position over them (bigger, stronger, higher-ranking, older, or bolder) calls the shots? And that (by implication) they have the right to order around and demand respect from whoever is “below” them?

To me, that’s certainly not the mark of a healthy individual. That sounds more like a little, compliant robot.

If nothing else, hope for my children to grow up in a home where our relationships are not only solid, but sacred. I want them to be a part of a family that pursues connection and communication even when it costs us something. I want to place the utmost priority on making sure that our environment is one of trust (which actually goes on to breed respect, kindness, generosity, humility, healthy obedience and so on).

(And if you’re a person of faith, think here about the parallel principles with regards to relationship with God. Mmmm… another post for another time…)

Even now as I have very little littles, I believe I can begin to foster trust in important ways.


How I build relationship and foster trust with my children:

By watching my tone of voice.

By being polite (not just to others, but to them).

By listening.

By extending grace.

By having realistic expectations.

By having clear boundaries.

By being consistent.

By extending grace.

By responding to their cries, even if it is “just for attention”. (Especially if it is for attention – they must need it.)

By advocating for them as little people and helping others to consider their opinions, need for space, and desire to make choices.

By prioritizing relationship over rules.

By extending grace.

By teaching them how to problem-solve.

By helping them to identify and sort out their emotions.

By modeling kindness and generosity and respect toward them.

By extending grace.

By refusing to take short-cuts, even if it’s more convenient.

By keeping my focus on the big picture (I’m raising adults not children).

By staying on the same team as them.

By extending grace.

I’m no parenting expert. I regularly make mistakes and I still have so much to learn.


But I am the best mother that my children will ever have.

Together with my husband, it’s our responsibility, and—more importantly—our absolute privilege to ensure that during these days of babyhood and toddlerhood we’re giving them the finest possible start in life as we build and invest into the foundations of their value-systems and world view.

To me, that means making sure my parenting priorities are in order, with priority number one being to establish relationship with my littles based on trust and underpinned with kindness, grace, and generosity.


Dear friends, what are your parenting priorities? Have you ever thought about emphasizing trust and connection before emphasizing obedience and behavior?




About Author

Adriel Booker is an author, speaker, and advocate based in Sydney, Australia who believes storytelling, beauty, and the grace of God will change the world. Adriel has become a trusted voice in areas of motherhood and parenting, Christian spirituality, and global women's issues. She's also known for her work with the Love A Mama Collective—serving under-resourced women in developing nations through safe birth initiatives—as well as her years spent as a Bible teacher and leadership coach. Her latest book is Grace Like Scarlett: Grieving with Hope after Miscarriage and Loss and she's made the companion grief journal available for free. Find Adriel across all social media platforms at @adrielbooker or sign up for LoveNotes, Adriel's 'secret posts' that aren't published anywhere else online. ✌️


  • Stephanie
    18 April 2012 at 10:18 pm

    This is such a wonderful post. And echos a lot of what my pastor said in a series he did recently on parenting. I intend on listening to his message (the church outs out the messages in digital form) a few times to encourage me to work towards being the parent I want to be. And I am going to bookmark this to read again as well.

    Knowing you have not tried to do your best as a parent can be very humbling and guilt inducing! I am working hard to be a parent who, while recognizing I am not perfect, also knows I am doing all I can do to be the best parent I can be.
    Stephanie recently posted..A Reader Raising a ReaderMy Profile

    • Adriel @ The Mommyhood Memos
      19 April 2012 at 11:30 am

      That’s awesome Stephanie. Guilt is a gift to help us get things into alignment. Once we do, we can move on from the guilt! (And if it creeps back related to things we’ve already “corrected”, then we know it’s false guilt – to be ignored!! That’s condemnation in full force.)

      I’m not a perfect parent either, but like you I’m growing and learning and doing my best!! Thank God for grace that covers us.

  • Tara
    18 April 2012 at 11:32 pm

    Great post! I couldn’t agree more with you when you said

    By keeping my focus on the big picture (I’m raising adults not children).

    I love that you are creating trust and relationship with your children! That is awesome, and having clearing boundaries! 🙂

    those are my goals when I become a parent as well! 🙂

    • Adriel @ The Mommyhood Memos
      19 April 2012 at 11:27 am

      If you keep your focus on raising adults when you become a parent, you’ll be off to a great start Tara! 🙂

  • Nessa
    19 April 2012 at 3:28 am

    So beautiful. And I love your emphasis on extending grace. To our children and to ourselves as parents. I am loving up every words.
    Nessa recently posted..Big PottyMy Profile

    • Adriel @ The Mommyhood Memos
      19 April 2012 at 11:26 am

      Pretty sure when we get a revelation of what true grace looks like, we’ll want it more and more to season our responses and relationships and entire lives.

  • Tasha
    19 April 2012 at 3:36 am

    Love, love, LOVE this post!! This reflects my heart as a mother exactly! Having studied child development, I think that trust is HUGE in developing a healthy, whole child and creating that internal sense of self-control. I have been hearing a lot of the ‘robot’ obedience sentiment from those who cite religion as their basis (children need to learn to ‘fear consequences’ enforced by parents to learn to fear God). You nailed it tho! It’s not about power, fear, dominance, and control. Good parenting, like life…like God, is about relationship.

    • Adriel @ The Mommyhood Memos
      19 April 2012 at 11:25 am

      Yeah, I think that’s sad. As a Christian, I believe strongly in the “fear of the Lord” but I think sadly, people can misunderstand what that even is. To “fear God” is to value what he does, agree with his opinions, please him instead of ourselves, seek his approval and affirmation more than we seek it from those around us, etc. As we grow in that, we actually do grow in our desire to obey… but he LOVES us into obedience. And then our obedience (and desire for it) is a sweet gift to him. 🙂 I, too, think it’s so crucial to help children develop in self-control rather than merely relying on us to provide the “control” for them. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  • Laura
    19 April 2012 at 10:08 am

    This is really quite wonderful. I have never particularly looked at parenting from this point of view, although I would like to think that subconsciously this has been my goal all along. I want to see my role as a trusting leader as opposed to someone who simply demands respect. You’re right, I look up to those who have proven to be trustworthy, I follow those who have proven to have my best interest at heart, time and time again. I turn to those who love me deeply enough to extend grace.

    Thank you for posting this.
    Laura recently posted..Pregnancy PlateauMy Profile

    • Adriel @ The Mommyhood Memos
      19 April 2012 at 11:22 am

      Yeah, I know for me, when the pressure’s on or when I’m tired or stressed, that’s when the temptation is the highest to slip into making demands, emphasizing quick, unquestioning obedience etc. That’s when I have to draw on my values that are predetermined instead of relying on my emotions in the heat of the moment!

  • Jody Lee Collins
    19 April 2012 at 1:26 pm

    Adriel–this ‘parenting a 2 year old’ list would work as ‘loving people in general no matter their age.’

    The ‘extending grace’ reminder throughout works for everyone of us.
    you are a blessedly sane, grace-filled reminder of walking out Jesus.
    Bless you!

    • Adriel @ The Mommyhood Memos
      19 April 2012 at 2:43 pm

      True Jody, I guess that’s sort of my point to be honest – to treat children with as much respect as we’d treat adults that we honor. I think sometimes kids get brushed aside and ordered around and we can forget they are little people with every bit of emotion and value and opinion and worth as we are!!
      Adriel @ The Mommyhood Memos recently posted..a mother’s conflicted heart (and a home photo shoot blunder)My Profile

  • Sarah Rutherford
    20 April 2012 at 12:29 am

    We adopted our daughter out of foster care when she was 6 years old. From age 3-6 she had been in 5 different homes. She still to this days continues to have trust problems and because of that she has a lot of behavior problems. She steals, lies, back talks but she is also very hurt. She has a boarder line eating disorder at age 10 and is on antidepressants to control her anxiety and suicidal thoughts. Raising her has been the hardest thing I have ever done. She has reactive attachment disorder which really means that she never learned to attach to anyone through bonding and trust. Never. Not anyone. Building that trust with her through unconditional love, grace, and consistency has not been easy and we still aren’t quite there yet after almost 4 years. She still worries that one day we will decide we don’t want her anymore and send her away so she puts her walls up to keep us at arms length. Trust is a big deal in our house and I have to always remember that grace, unconditional love and consistency are the keys.

    • Adriel @ The Mommyhood Memos
      21 April 2012 at 1:34 am

      Wow Sarah, I think that most parents (including me) would take for granted the opportunity to start off our parent/child relationships with trust straight off the bat. Someone in your shoes has a whole different reality to contend with. Your precious daughter is so, so lucky to have you – parents committed to building trust, loving her, and accepting her, even if you’re not guaranteed anything in return. You are amazing!!! Thanks for sharing some of your experience here. xx
      Adriel @ The Mommyhood Memos recently posted..when it all goes to… you-know-where | mamas in the trenchesMy Profile

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  • Jules
    21 April 2012 at 11:54 pm

    HI Adriel! I love your writing… I find your thoughts really encouraging as a mummy! This post got me thinking, as we definitely value obedience and training our kids to do the right thing. I had a couple of questions…. do you discipline your kids in any way? How do you implement your family values to the kids? Are there any consequences for them when it comes to disregarding instruction/correction? (My concern would be that if there are no consequences as a 2 year old…. how will they learn that there are consequences to their choices as adults….or at what age should we start introducing the concept of being responsible for actions)… we have been really impacted by noticing that amongst young people, the main reason for their brokenness and wrong choices seems to be the fact that many have no idea that there are real consequences to their actions. How do we make sure that our kids get a grasp on this at an early age? Just wondered what you thought! Love to you all xx

    • Adriel @ The Mommyhood Memos
      22 April 2012 at 2:25 pm

      Hi Jules. Thanks so much for your comment and sharing your thoughts and questions! I certainly don’t have it all figured out. And, like you, I also do believe that children need to learn obedience. I suppose for me it’s just the issue of “rank” if that makes sense. I have found with Levi that when our relationship is sweet (namely, when I’ve spent lots of genuine face-to-face time with him) he’s much quicker to respond to my instructions and requests.

      Discipline actually means “to teach, instruct, or cause to learn” and so yes, I DO discipline my kids. It starts from birth. If you look at discipline as shaping, teaching, instructing them and providing room for them to learn. What we often think is that discipline equals punishment. It actually doesn’t. There’s so much in the NT about discipline, but you just don’t see Jesus dishing out punishment. (He actually came to do away with our punishment!) He focuses on teaching and instructing and a lot of question-asking (to help people learn for themselves).

      I always relate it back to my early days of knowing God. When I first became a Christian my relationship with him revolved around growing to know his character, receiving his love, understanding his heart, learning his ways, etc. I never felt ordered around, rebuked, demanded of, etc. As I grew to know him, so grew my desire to obey and serve and follow. Even now, when I make bad decisions, I rarely have to be rebuked. Usually I know I’ve done it (or HS brings that nudge of conviction) and I repent, get it right, and move on. Only when I’m being very obstinate do I get a rebuke from him. But our relationship is solid enough now that I can handle that. It doesn’t undermine my trust, it doesn’t make me feel insecure. It makes me feel loved because I understand that he wants what’s best.

      I believe as we grow in relationship with our children, the natural progression should very much be the same. (I’m always asking this question “How does God parent me? And how does that translate into how I parent my children?”

      Do I believe in consequences? Oh yeah, of course! But I’m trying more and more to find natural or logical consequences for poor behavior instead of just punishing them. For instance, if you throw toys they will get broken (natural consequence) so I’d better put the toy in a time-out where it’s safe. When you calm down you can have another try. (This one’s working well at the moment and Levi’s throwing less and less.) If you throw food on the floor, you’ll have nothing left to eat and will be hungry before our next meal. (No snack offered to compensate later.) If you hit your brother you have to be separated from him so that he will stay safe. (You miss out on “fellowship” – to use “Christian” terms.) You must have your diaper changed right now (non-negotiable!) so either you go climb up the change table yourself, or I will carry you myself (kicking and screaming if need be – haha) and either way we’ll get it done. (Your choice whether this happens easily or with a fight!)

      Does that make sense?

      I find that on days where Levi acts out a lot I need to drop my multi-tasking for a little while and just play with him – focused play like coloring, building something, playing cars, tackle & tickles, pushing him on the swing or kicking a call around the yard, etc. After a good bout of play he goes back to behaving really well. It’s like his acting out really is a cry for more attention. I don’t believe he’s manipulating, I just think in his little two-year-old mind he doesn’t know how to articulate his needs and is trying to make them known. (As adults we often do this too – we might get quiet and sulky about something, just hoping, hoping that someone will ask us if we’re ok. Obviously that’s not the best/most humble way to ask for help and we need to learn to be more mature, but I’m just using that as an example to show how “normal” this sort of thing is.) As I focus on him his heart is touched and I earn that position of trust back. Without fail he responds really well after that and tries to communicate his needs with less drama! 😉

      This doesn’t mean that he calls the shots in our family. We are the parents and we do know what’s best. It just means that pulling the “because I said so” card is used very, very sparing. Instead we offer choice as much as we can – you can decide between the hard way (with consequences) or the easy way (also with consequences – good ones).

      Does that make sense? I think I could write a lot more about this. 😉 Truth is, we’re still very much figuring this all out! And each stage of childhood requires different approaches right? But underpinning those with the concept that to discipline means to teach (not to punish) is the main thing. And part of the teaching process will always involve consequences (which aren’t always negative).

      Your question about when to start introducing responsibility? I don’t think there’s a magic age 🙂 but I think as a parent you can sense when they’re starting to “get it.” With Levi this was around a year old. And obviously as they mature, so does their capacity for being given responsibility (and taking responsibility for their actions).

      Some thoughts for you to chew on. Please remember, I’m no expert!! Still new at all this, but I’m learning and being shaped and challenged as I do. My big thing is this: “How does God parent me and how do I translate that to my littles?” 🙂

      Love to you and the fam too. Thanks again for writing. Sorry for such an enormous answer. (Should have just written a post about it – ha!) xx
      Adriel @ The Mommyhood Memos recently posted..parenting to build relationships, not robotsMy Profile

      • Ching
        18 August 2016 at 6:41 pm

        Thank you so much for your wonderful article. I’m a Christian and I have struggle with obedient and children. aA while ago , my son did something wrong and my sister in law corrected him, I thanked her for correcting him saying that it is good to have someone else says the same thing to him as me, as sometimes children grow ‘deaf’ to what the parents have to say. My sister in law then said to me, if your child can’t obey you, you failed as a mum because parents are authorities God place in the children’s life. By learning how to obey parents, they learn to obey God. I have struggle with this statement for a long time. Your article has given me a great relief ! Thank you !

  • Branson
    22 April 2012 at 11:40 am

    “By responding to their cries, even if it is “just for attention”. (Especially if it is for attention – they must need it.)”


    Amazing post, my friend! Definitely bookmarking this one!
    Branson recently posted..Leap Into Spring Photo Challenge {Blossom/Trees}My Profile

  • Jessica W
    22 April 2012 at 1:33 pm

    Wow! What an amazing post. I’ve thought so much about faith and my church relationships this way but not parenting…at least to this extent. Such good thoughts here. Thank you for sharing your wisdom friend!
    Jessica W recently posted..For the Mother Yet-To-Be {My Mother Letter}My Profile

  • Jessica
    26 April 2012 at 11:47 am

    This is a fabulous post, Adriel. Truly. It’s like you’ve ripped the words from my brain. And that thought is frighteningly awesome. 🙂 Are we kindred spirits??? Amazing.

    I agree with ALL you’ve said. If nothing else, I want my children to be able to trust me. I want them to know that I will do what I say I will do. I treat them as human beings who are learning, learning from me how to be better, treat others, and handle their emotions. There’s so much that I’m learning about myself in the process of being a mother to my toddler and baby. And I’m humbled by that.
    Jessica recently posted..Growing|Because Parents Get MeMy Profile

  • Rachel
    26 April 2012 at 11:39 pm

    Thank-you, Adriel! Jason also loved this. Xave thanks you too.

  • Leslie
    1 May 2012 at 10:00 am

    I think I just found a like-minded mama here on the web! What a joy to stumble on your blog today 🙂 Loved this post so much! And I’m a “ywam-er” too 🙂

    Much love and blessings,

    Leslie recently posted..National Spank-Out DayMy Profile

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  • […] again I thanked God for giving me such a profound little teacher. Apparently even those of us who parent to build relationships, not robots need to be reminded of our own priorities every now and […]


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