When I wrote my last post about respect, I originally meant to write about respect and the way we interact with our children. But because I'm not much of a linear thinker (I tend to go from A to B to 7 to Z before I find my way back to my point), that particular post became about something else.
The whole thing really stemmed from a rather strong reaction that I got to my Making Peace With The Mess post. The funny part about it is that I didn't think it was one of my more controversial posts.
But I digress again.
The argument was that my children were learning to be disrespectful, and that I was doing them a grave disservice by not making them respect their things, and by extension respect the people who bought them for them. To be fair, that was not the first time I've heard that objection. This post is not about, or aimed towards, that woman.... although I thank her in all sincerity for placing it on my heart to explore the concept further. It's a good concept, one well worth talking about.
I think that one thing I failed to make clear in that "mess" post was that I do believe in taking responsibility for one's things, and actions, and person. What I don't believe in is making my children behave in a certain way that fulfills my idea of a "respectful" person. I don't MAKE them pick up their toys (but they do). I don't MAKE them say 'please' and 'thank you' (but they do). I don't MAKE them shake someone's hand when it's extended (but they do).
My philosophy in regards to respect and my children is no more complicated or simple than this: I treat them the way I'd like to be treated. I treat my spouse (and my parents and my sister and my friends) the way I'd like to be treated, and how I'd like them to treat others.
Everyone complains that teens have no respect today, and that parents need to be tougher, need to be more strict, need to MAKE THEM SHOW RESPECT. I contend that that is not the problem at all. I think that parents need to be more involved with their kids, of all ages, and they need to show their KIDS the respect that they want to receive. I think they need to show each other the respect they want to receive. Don't we all know of a family with parents who belittle each other and name call... which has led to children who've learned to belittle and name call?
And besides the philosophical objection I have to forcing respect, it's not something that can even be done. Why? Because before it's an action, it's a feeling. And while you may be able to force someone to do a lot of things, you cannot force them to feel something. Their feelings are their own. When a child is forced to do something (whether through command, or threat of punishment, or promise of reward), what do you suppose it is they're feeling? I'm going to venture to say that it's not "Gee, my parents are swell. I sure do respect them."
So then the argument becomes, "Well they don't appreciate it now, but they'll appreciate it when they're adults." Okay. I can't speak for my own children, since they are still children, but I can speak for myself. I am 37 at the time of this writing, an adult by most anyone's standards. And I do respect my parents, very much. I respect them, and I appreciate them, and I am friends with them. I respect them because they were kind to us, and kind to each other. I respect them because they played with us, and read to us, and took us to interesting places and introduced us to interesting people. I respect them because they worked hard to support us, and worked hard at maintaining a loving, cohesive family. In many ways, they were the kind of parents that I myself am trying to be. And I was a "good girl" growing up... almost always followed the rules, did what I was told, didn't try to buck the system (ironic, no?). I very rarely got in trouble.
There is one specific instance though that will forever stand out in my mind; the one time I got grounded. I was in junior high school, and a friend and I missed the bus. We decided that we'd walk to school (several miles away) so we wouldn't miss our play rehearsal after school. First though, we thought we'd hang out at my house and make rock candy. (And we did, and it was good!) But the school had called my mom at work, and my mom came home..... and to make a long story short, I was grounded, and forbidden to see or talk to my friend. And while I'd love to say that I learned my lesson, and was properly repentant and forevermore more respectful towards my parents ... Um. All it really did was make me sneak around to see my friend behind their back without their knowledge. But the grounding gave me time to think about what I'd done, right? In all honesty, I thought the whole thing was funny. I still think it's funny. And I say that with no disrespect. It's just that I was a kid, having a momentarily lapse in judgment, like a lot of kids (and adults). I wasn't being a "bad" kid; I was being a kid who was trying something I'd never tried before.
I share that story to share the fact that it was not the few times that they were "tough" with me that made me respect them..... it was the many, many times that they were not. It was the times that they spoke to me gently, and patiently, and calmly. The times when they were first and foremost my friends.
I see so many parents demanding that their children be respectful, but who are not respectful to their children themselves, whether through tone, words, or actions. A mom was complaining to me once that her son had started talking back, and being disrespectful. She said when she tried to tell him to do something he'd say, "You just zip your lip!" I asked her where he'd heard it, and she said "It's something we say to him all the time........ I guess we shouldn't say that anymore, huh."
We know we can do better.
Shouldn't we at least hold ourselves to the same standards that we hold for other people? If we'd like our kids to be respectful, wouldn't it only make sense to TREAT THEM with respect? When I feel like something is "off" with my relationship with the kids, when there are kinks in our family dynamic, I don't think about how to change the kids' attitudes and actions. I think about how to change mine. I think about where I've been lacking, and I think about how I can improve. And every time - every single time - when I make the adjustment in myself, things get better.
We behave as well as we're treated.
And at the end of the day, I can feel good knowing that my kids treat me, and themselves, and others with respect because they want to. Because they truly feel it, and not because it was something that they were "taught" to do.