Respect. Isn’t that really all parents want from their kids? Isn’t it about the hardest thing to actually teach them to do–treat us with respect? I struggle with this a great deal due to the way my two teenage boys sometimes speak to me, respond to a request, and generally behave. It is not with much respect, at times, and I don’t like it.
Aretha had the biggest hit with her rendition of “Respect” though it was originally performed by Otis Redding in 1965 (here’s a link to a great video of her performing it in 1968). Some of the lyrics to that classic song resonant for me on this topic: “All I’m askin’ for is a little respect,” and “R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me.”
So, what is the solution? I think it may be in our demands and expectations of our kids. If we allow them to be disrespectful, we are essentially condoning that behavior. I finally realized that certain things just were no long acceptable between my sons and me and that there had to be serious consequences if they were not being respectful.
I often come back to the inherent parenting dilemma, I believe, of my generation. We want to be our kids’ buddies rather than their parents. Being a buddy means being a friend, and letting a lot of things slide. Being a buddy means not demanding a level of respect that parents have historically been given without much question until the sixties when all “authority” was called into question in some quarters of our country.
Going biblical, we’ve got one of the Ten Commandments that says, “Honor Thy Father and Mother.” What exactly does that mean? A man I greatly respect, Dennis Prager, believes that commandment is the most important of the ten! Why? Everything else comes from that relationship between parent and child. When children “honor” their parents, they learn the tools to live life with grace, respect, and principles.
Dennis Prager does not expect the child of an abusive/bad parents to honor them beyond honoring the institution of parenting. Nor do I. But, in the more common scenario of a healthy father and mother, it is our obligation and duty to literally demand that respect and “honor.” And, frankly, I’ve laid down on that job, partly due to guilt over what they went through in my divorce and also just plain laziness as I, too, like being their buddy.
I know I’m doing them and myself no service by not teaching them to respect my authority which, in turn, will teach them to respect all the authority figures that they will encounter on their journey to adulthood, from teachers to employers. What I’ve allowed them to get away with, as far as respect goes, would cost them better grades, jobs, and/or success at work in “real life.” I am therefore not doing my job of being the best parent I can be.
Today, I made a breakthrough after my younger son questioned my participation in a task I’d asked him to help with, related to our moving. I asked him to join in loading my truck, packing up some of his stuff, and otherwise contributing to our family effort to move. As I had done a lot of the “heavy lifting” already, I expressed that it was my son’s turn. His response was, “Well then, what are you going to do?” The implication being that I wasn’t doing my share.
The fact that he’d slept in till noon that day and most days of the summer while his step-mom and I had been working since early in the mornings, evidently escaped him. The fact that both of us had already done some of our primary work of the day and made a trip to our new home with boxes of our stuff, also escaped him because he was sleeping.
It took me a full day to realize the level of disrespect he was displaying and I was sanctioning by my non-response. I did an inventory of these issues and realized where I was failing as a dad and parent. So, today, I sat him down and explained what I expect of him, what was acceptable, and what were not, and the consequences of another display of this sort of disrespect. He was quiet; he was sullen.
But, he GOT IT! The rest of the day, he was bending over backwards to be helpful. It sunk in. For me, it was hard to be so harsh, or so I thought, but it was what he needed and what our kids often need from us. They need us to teach them about real life, the real world (and I’m not talking some dumb MTV series), so they won’t get fired from that job when they question an apparently waste-of-time task a boss asks of them.
That is my job. That is your job. We had kids; we have a responsibility to teach them respect. Deal with it.