Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Requiring Respect in Children

As a young child, my mother taught me that children should respect adults ... just because they were adults. That my respect was simply a requirement of my very existence. As an early teen, I had some friends convince me that "adults should have to 'earn' my respect." Actually, I had some adults who believed that as well. I carried some of that "earned respect" belief right up into adulthood.

Then my first child made it to five years old and decided to show that he didn't respect me as his mother. *ahem* His military Papa didn't agree with my earned-respect philosophy and our precocious boy got into trouble. In our sometimes heated discussions about this issue, he pointed something out to me that hadn't occurred to me before - something that I suppose should have been obvious:

A child's respect has already been earned!

Having recently explained to Bruiser, our third headstrong boy, why adults in the neighborhood don't need to do anything to earn his respect I decided perhaps it should be said here as well. So consider this a PSA (Public Service Announcement).

Most adults work hard to provide for their children - they find ways to get food on the table, to help when the children are sick, keep a roof over their heads, teach them the skills they'll need to lead productive lives of their own, etc. The list is long, and sometimes we adults are bone-weary and yet we are still up working on laundry at midnight or sitting beside the bed of a coughing young man. In this way, the countless ways that we act as parents, we have earned respect, whether or not the child feels like we have. 

Buttercup tries her hand at "knitting" (she clearly needs more lessons!)
What about those we pass in the streets, perhaps even those without children of their own? Those folks are often still working as mentors, guiding our children and guarding them in countless unnoticed ways as they move through life, weaving together society's fabric. One of our closest family friends has no children of her own, but she is one of those I trust to love my children almost as much as I do myself. When they have acted poorly, I know she'll correct them, partly because she gets irritated at unruly children, partly because she has become family through the amount of time we have spent in one another's lives, but mostly because she wants to see them become good adults. 

She doesn't provide their food, outside of the occasional dinner; she doesn't buy them clothes; she doesn't usually come anywhere near our house when illness strikes (who can blame her??) But she is here in our lives, mentoring, teaching, loving and sometimes simply tolerating our children - and that means she has already done the deeds that many would consider earning respect. 

But as children, we don't often recognize all the wonderful things others do for us. We don't consider that someone else is doing all of this for us - and really, why would we? We're taken care of and loved as infants and are entitled to the love that comes with our size and youth. As children, we have to be taught that the world is not ours by birth-right, that we have requirements and responsibilities of our own to meet. And I've come to accept that they also need to be taught that it is not necessary for them to feel like they need to show an adult their respect but it is necessary for them to show that respect anyway. 

Sure, one could argue that there are people in the world who truly have not earned that right-to-respect. There are adults who do despicable things in our world. A child often doesn't have the wisdom to acknowledge the many things that are done for them, so they are not in the best place to decide who is a dirtbag and who deserves their respect. Their mentors are many but their recognition of those mentors is not always swift. 

My children are required to make the assumption of respect (and act accordingly) regardless of whether they know the person well enough to make a determination - a stranger on the street, for example. 

How does this work in your house?
Earn it or Require it?

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  1. Well, I wonder who the family friend who gets irritated at unruly children is .... ;-)

  2. That would be the same family friend who is an honorary member of the family.


I look forward to hearing your thoughts!


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