Respect cf. love

Showing respect to children

I would not want to choose between love and respect

I never doubted that my mother loved me. But perhaps even more important than feeling her love, I felt respected by her. When I was growing up, I had some sense that my peers did not get the respect from their parents that I got from mine, especially from my mother. Later I confirmed how unique my mother was in showing respect to me.

  • Think for yourself: Even at an age earlier than I can remember, my mother always told me that I should think for myself. Even if I disagreed with her, she still respected that I was thinking for myself.

  • Taking the clock apart: At age four, I wanted to disassemble an old wall clock. My plan was to put it back together afterwards. I never did get it back together, but my mother was so amazed that I was able to take it apart.

  • Those are your toys: I had a sister three years younger. She had her toys. I had my toys. If I wanted to let my sister play with a toy, that was my business. My mother respected that my toys belonged to me and my sister's toys belonged to my sister. And it was each of our choices whether or not "to share" any particular toy at any particular time.

  • A broken glass is not a problem: At the dinner table, if one of us three kids (I had a brother eight years younger) were careless and broke a glass, my parents expressed no upset. "Accidents happen to everyone," my mother said. Just as she would not have blamed an adult who broke a glass, she did not blame us children either.

  • There were some rules, but no blame: A spanking was sometimes a standard consequence if certain rules were broken. The spanking was done with a hand or a spatula on my buttocks, with me leaning over my mother's lap. She never spanked me in anger. It was delivered simply as a consequence for breaking a rule. She treated me no differently after the spanking than before I broke the rule.

  • Yes, sir and no, sir: My mother thought politeness was important. "Politeness is the grease that helps us get along better,” she said. Without impatience, no matter how many times she repeated it, she would remind me to say, "Yes, sir" "No, sir" "Yes, ma'am" "No, ma'am." Not only that, even though I might be only six years old myself, she would say, "Yes, sir" and "No, sir" to me.

  • Knock, knock, may I come in: If I were in my room with the door closed (even at seven years old), she would knock and ask permission to open the door.

  • It's your business whether you do your homework: My mother never required that I do my homework. She said, "Children should have time to play." If I wanted to do my homework, that was fine. If not, that was fine too. Generally, I didn't do my homework. I played a lot. For the most part, I made B's instead of A's. That was okay with my parents.

  • My mother gave the principal a lecture: When I was in elementary school, I shared with a school ground classmate that I thought that there might not be a hell (this was inside of a heavily Baptist community in a small South Carolina town in the 1950s). This news got up the principal of that four-room school house. The principal asked my mother to come in for a sit down. My mother instructed the principal to leave my beliefs alone and to respect the "separation of church and state." That's the last we heard of it.

  • Pan-fried potatoes and conversation: Every school day when arriving home after a mile's walk from my elementary school, my mother always had pan-fried potatoes (with ketchup), my favorite food waiting for me. We would sit at the kitchen table talking about life: science, books, ideas, religion, culture, relationships. Just chatting away together.

  • No bed time: We were never given a bed time. We had to get up at a certain time to get to school in the morning. But, as long I didn't disturb others in the house who wanted to get to sleep, I could stay up as late as I wanted (or even go to bed as early as I wanted). If I was tired the next day because I stayed up late, that was my business and I got to deal with that consequence.

  • No curfew: If we were out at night, there was no fixed curfew. We had to tell our parents when we expected to be home. But, if we wanted to stay out later, it was no problem as long as we called to tell them what the new later time would be.

  • Sex education: I don't remember a time when my mother didn't talk about sex with me. In retrospect, she was rather clinical about it (which made some sense, given that she was a nurse). For example, she would say to me at five years old when I asked something about babies, "When a man and woman mate, the man puts his penis inside the woman's vagina and then his sperm race up inside the woman to try to find an egg, if it's the right time of month." She did leave out some important issues (like movement and masturbation), but, all in all, it was more sex education than any of the other kids were getting in the 1950s in America (at least from their parents). My mother sometimes quoted me as saying, "If you want to know anything about sex, just ask my mother."

  • Alcohol was okay: My parents drank moderately. And, if any of us kids wanted to drink (although it seemed we never did; for myself, I didn't like the taste of alcohol), that was fine. Consequently, there was no aura put around drinking and none of us kids ever had a drinking problem.

  • Cigarettes: Both of my parents smoked when I was growing up and they both regretted ever starting. Although they never said that we couldn't smoke, my parents promised me a car if I didn't smoke until I was 18. For whatever reasons I never had any desire to start smoking...maybe because I was thinking for myself...and when I was 18 I didn't even want a car.

  • Earning our own money: Generally we kids did not get an allowance. But we were given opportunities to make our own money (we got 10 cents for washing the dishes). How we spent our money was entirely up to us.

  • Children should be seen and heard: My mother hated the saying, "Children should be seen, but not heard."

  • Act you age: She also disliked the expression, "Act your age," when said by an adult to a child, if the adult didn't like what the child was doing. My mother would respond, "But they are acting their age!"

  • Teenagers should rebel: My mother also said, "It is the purpose of teenagers to rebel." Interestingly, none of us kids rebelled like it seemed that our peers were. At school I couldn't understand when my fellow classmates would call their parents, "my old man" or "my old lady." Perhaps it was because my parents showed such respect to us and they didn't present us with much to rebel against.

  • My mother's happiness was not my business: My mother never gave me the feeling that I needed to be a certain way for her to be happy. For the most part, she loved me, accepted me, and respected me just the way that I was (and was not).

  • Her rule of thumb: Although I never talked with my mother about it, I think her rule of thumb was that, at any given age, she gave me as much freedom as possible to make my own choices and my own mistakes. And, once I left home at 18, it was all up to me. My wings were strong.

Love without respect

Love that is untempered by respect is not only tiring for the parents, it's suffocating and disempowering for the child. The biggest problem for parents who even think about showing more respect towards their children are their fears,

  • "What if they don't learn the right way when they're young?!"

  • "The world is a dangerous place; I need to protect my child."

  • "I need to protect my child from making the wrong decision."

  • "I won't be a good parent if I don't make sure they...."

  • "What if they're not prepared to have a good future?!"

  • "If I just let them do what they want to do, they'll never amount to anything."

  • "If I don't teach them to be unselfish, they'll end up living a lonely life."

  • "If I don't teach them to follow the rules, they won't be able to deal with society."

  • "Children need to be taught the difference between right and wrong."

These fears are strong stimulants that inhibit us from showing more respect to our children. We don't want to accept or trust that our children will make their own mistakes and learn to successfully live their life (or not) by their own standards and own choices.

When I was 55 years old, my mother gave me an interesting and gratifying compliment. "Dwight, several times in your adult life, I thought you made the wrong choice. But, later, after I saw the way it turned out, I decided that your choice was better than the choice that I would have had you make at that time."

Yes, I have made plenty of "mistakes" (and successes) in my life. But they were my mistakes, not anyone else's. And even as a child, I learned early that I could not hide behind blaming someone else for any "mistakes," because I did what they thought was best for me, rather than relying on my own assessments and my choices.