Parents, Kids, and the Other R-word: “Respect”

Photo by pullip_junk, via Flickr

You know that thing about kids? That thing where they act like angelic beings, floating above a river of serenity and sweetness, any time they’re in public, and then as soon as the rest of the world turns its back, they grow horns and a forked tail?

Yeah, that. Six people watched my children while we were gone, and every one of them said the kids were cooperative, helpful, and conflicts were minor and resolved easily. And then we came home, and Nicholas did his Strong-Willed thing.

I haven’t talked about Nicholas in a while, because he’s getting older and I want to be more sensitive to the way people perceive him. Besides, things have been better. We’re hitting a stride. It’s not that we’re conflict-free, but he’s growing and we’re growing, and we haven’t had one of those epic battles of wills in quite a while.

At least, we hadn’t, until last week.

I will spare you the details that led up to this point; suffice it to say Nicholas had lost his screen privileges. I knew it was going to be excruciatingly difficult for him to resist the draw if his siblings were watching out in the open areas of the house. So, out of respect for him, for his innate dignity, to lessen his temptation and make it easier for him to comply, I set Julianna up with the portable DVD player in her bedroom, out of the way, out of sight.

A bit later, I came down the hall and found her bedroom door shut. When I opened it, I found Nicholas watching Tinker Bell with Julianna.

It was dinnertime before it finally clicked:

It was about respect.

Image by twicepix, via Flickr

I had acted in his best interest, out of respect for his innate dignity as a child of God, and his dishonesty was a slap in the face.

It hurt me.

I wasn’t angry. I was hurt. Because I try so damn hard: to give them a childhood full of great experiences, to balance that privilege with a sense of responsibility, and especially, to be fair both in my expectations and in disciplining them. It is freaking exhausting work, and it never stops, even when I go to bed at night.

Don’t get me wrong; this is my calling, and I feel honored to have been blessed by these little people who are capable of such goodness…when they want to be.

But when they throw all that effort back in my face, it hurts. A day after that interaction, I gave Nicholas a clear instruction: Take these cards downstairs and put them away. I mean put them in the Apples to Apples and Spot It boxes. I do not want see these on the floor.

Three hours later when I went downstairs to practice flute, I found the cards…lying on the floor. I kind of lost it. Sour-faced, Nicholas got up on the chair to put the cards…not in the box, but on top of the box. While looking at me to see what I was going to do.

(Incidentally, if you have ever wondered if you have a strong-willed child, ask yourself if your kid has ever done something like THAT. Because THAT is the hallmark, right there.)

Respect: to take the responsibility on myself to make sure I don’t set my kids up for failure by expecting them to read my mind and know what I mean without me bothering to say it clearly.

Lack of respect: to deliberately and repeatedly fling noncompliance in my face.

This kind of behavior is so foreign to me, I don’t even understand it. I’ve seen it in action before, in other people, but I find it completely unfathomable. Why would you choose to act this way?

This was quite the revelation. I remember as a child being admonished…frequently…that I owed my parents respect. As a teenager I had some nasty hurtful things to say on the subject, although most of it is safely buried in a Journal in the basement where it can do no damage. As a parent, though, respect has never hit my radar—until now.

But it’s on my radar now. I’m not going to demand blind respect. I want my kids to understand that everything I do is motivated by respect for their dignity as children of God—which is why I’ve made it a point to apologize whenever I fail to live up to that ideal. And that the respect I expect from them is due to me for the same reason.

I can only hope and pray that it makes a difference—later, if not sooner—and that if it’s later, I can cultivate the patience to wait for it.