When I decided I wanted to write a piece on respect, I imagined I’d do some kind of in-depth examination of one central juicy question. Somewhat predictably, on the journey of looking for it, I found a whole pile more. So, I’m here with not just one question about respect, I’m here with loads of them.
And, no specific answers.
All these questions did however take me on a really useful thought adventure and my hope is that you might embark on one too. And maybe like me you’ll arrive at the end with some well considered answers of your own.
…however you may need to sit with some of them for a while.
My Definition of Respect
I think that questions of respect are tied inextricably to questions around power. If we want to bring up children who make a positive contribution to the world around them, children who are more whole and happy within themselves, then we cannot escape from looking into our own relationship with power & respect as a part of our conscious parenting journey.
Before we go further, I’d like to share with you how I define respect. For me, it’s about actively considering and holding another’s thoughts, feelings and preferences as valid & worthy. This then directly informs my actions in any given situation in relationship to this person. I may not agree with them, yet I always aim to consider their perspective. Being respectful means that my intention is to act from this place.
The Question I Started With…
…was this: ‘do children deserve as much respect as adults?’ I’ve always answered it with an emphatic YES. Even when my outward behaviour may have seemed very much at odds with this response.
When I told my 10 yr old son what I was writing about, he suggested that I title my article: “Grownups & their Double Standards”. (it’s so good I had to use it).
What he said first struck me as pretty funny, and yet in reality it shines an uncomfortable spotlight upon my own hypocrisies; and exactly why I decided to make it the title of this piece. He forced me to reflect on the number of times I’ve asked my kids to do stuff or behave with each other (& other people) to a standard that I often have trouble meeting myself.
Can We Offer What We Never Got?
Most of us have grown up in western mainstream culture. It’s a culture in which children are not shown a great deal of respect. Their wishes being more often than not either ignored or paid lip service.
In our own childhoods, its highly likely that our genuine likes or dislikes may have been trampled upon (you make sure you eat everything on your plate!). Our experience of a situation may not have been listened to (I don’t care whose fault it was, just go to your room!). Our right to do the things we enjoy may have been taken away from us (You may want to learn the ukelele, but I’m telling you that you need to learn classical guitar first!). There’s loads of examples and I could certainly add to it from my own list of “less than optimal” parenting moments.
Of course some of this comes from a good intention. Parents want to feel respected and they feel that teaching their children to respect them is good for the kid. This is right (kind of). I mean, having people in your life that you respect, and learning to treat people with respect are both inherently good things. Yet, when we think of the “respect me just because I am your elder” kind of gig, what good will really come from this? What about when parents try and create respect that is rooted in fear?
We instinctively know the difference between what is real and what is false when we feel into respect. So do children. We can all tell the difference between the kind of false respect which is really a wolf (fear) cloaked in a sheep’s clothing. Contrast this with the kind of respect that gives you something to aspire to. This kind of respect is a reflection of something real & authentic within us.
Being someone worthy of respect is something I aspire to. In fact when I consider this notion of aspiring, I think it’s pretty central to the essence of respect, as in ‘we respect the people we aspire to be like’. How then can I be this for my children?
Creating Right Environments
So how do I live a life of someone worthy of respect?
As with most things, I probably need to start with me. Do I respect myself? As I thought about this, another interesting question arose in me: Does the life I have created feel like it respects me?
If you feel like your life does not, what impact do you imagine this have on your children’s experience of you? Does a life which feels congruent with who you are make it easier for you to cultivate an inner experience of respectfulness to self and others? Do you think that if you experienced a greater sense of “fit” between you and your life (giving you a sense of respect from and with life) perhaps you may find it easier to behave respectfully to others, including your children? It’s a question I’m asking myself. A life that feels congruent with my true nature surely means that I am being respectful to myself.
Maybe there are things about the very structures that we live in that might make us compromise on this value more than we would like? I mean, I may say to you that I hold this value of respecting my children, but in reality I find myself apologising to them more than I would like. One thing I feel doesn’t fit with me (and therefore may contribute to this) is the very family structure I live in.
I feel that Nuclear Family culture (which is usually just Mum, Dad and the kids) forces us to live in a structure in which all members miss out on the kind of extended family / community support and contact that all human families require for healthy functioning. I see it as fundamentally disrespectful to what families actually need to make it all work for everyone.
With the pressures that it brings to bear upon those of us in this “too-closed” system, is it any surprise that we lapse more easily into our bad habits? I think it’s much more difficult to foster an attitude of respect in a structure that is so fundamentally disrespectful to all who exist within it.
I’m not saying this as a way to excuse bad behaviour towards kids, Instead I’m simply pointing to the fact that tired and under-resourced parents are always going to be more likely to react. And disrespectful behaviour can be one of those patterns of reaction – especially when we have a cultural blind spot around respecting kids as it is. When you put together ‘tired and stressed’ with ‘traditional nuclear family structure’, I reckon it sucks for everyone!
Questions To Come Back To…
I’ve already raised more than a few, and I hope I’ve got you thinking. Here’s a few more…
- When does a human being become eligible for respect? Is there some bridge we cross? Some level of maturity we get to when we suddenly we are allowed to get the same level of respect as all other human beings? Do we start off with deserving just a bit and then work our way up to “full respect”?
- Does the respect we give to adults have a different quality to it? Why? Is this right?
- If we don’t respect ourselves first, does this mean that we can never really offer true respect to others? Will it instead be forever tainted? Is this the best place to begin, and if so, what might respecting yourself really look like in practise?
- Do you respect your own parents? What for? Perhaps there are things you wished they had embodied? How does this play out in your relationship with your own children?
- When you think back to your own childhood, do you feel you were offered a different level of respect than the adults around you? And now as an adult, what is your own relationship with respecting children – including your own?
- What are the long term impacts of growing up in an environment of feeling like your thoughts and feeling matter? What about the opposite scenario? What would one then take out into the world?
“Mum, You’re Out of Line!”
As I sat on the bed of my 10 yr old son one night last week, he spoke about how he was glad he felt ok to talk to me about anything (big yay!) – “even” (he added) “when you‘re out of line mum”. I love this.
It was in fact this very conversation with my boy that brought forth this article. It’s been so cool to talk with him about it, and use his great title! I’m grateful for his contribution, and I know he felt respected.
I can honestly say that when my children pull me up for speaking to them in a not-so-good way, or when they expose one of my own double-standards, my heart sings. OK, so it may not sing right away (haha!) but when I’m back in my centre once more I feel so happy that they know that they deserve respect. And they do more than just know it: they are prepared to make a stand for it.
For me, these moments with my kids provide me with an experience of really making a difference in their lives. It’s times like this I can see it all coming together.
Hilary Jackson 2013