Even though I have only been a parent a short time, I often find myself reflecting on what it means to serve in that role: What my actions mean for my daughter’s current and future happiness, how the decisions I make will shape who she becomes, and the type of relationship we will have when she has become a grown woman, perhaps with a child of her own.
A couple of weeks ago, we celebrated my husband’s graduation from college (he finished his B.A. in game art and design) with friends and family. There were mothers there who had toddlers (relatively “new” mothers), and there were mothers there who had older children. A friend told me about the mothers of older children talking to her about the “newer” mothers. They were criticizing the newer mothers for “having to explain” everything to their toddlers. They said, essentially, “I don’t have to explain things to my child. They do what I say because I’m the parent.” They went on to criticize these other mothers for “doing everything they say in the books” and then pointed out that their own kids were “just fine” and they didn’t have to read anything. They just did what they thought was best.
This attitude often persists into adulthood. I had a fallout with my mother-in-law earlier this week in which she informed me that I was her “child” and should respect her (after she cussed at me over a minor disagreement). She, like so many others, sees her “children” (and their spouses, by proxy) as objects to be controlled. As subjects that owe respect and love.
The week ended with a note from my own mother who I haven’t spoken with in 11 years because of years of abuse at her hands. She also talked to me a lot about demanding respect and what I “owed” her for simply being my parent.
Sadly, I think these sentiments are all too common. Many parents don’t think their children deserving of respect. They view them as subjects that they must
teach force to obey. Their success as parents is contingent upon how well their children do as they are told without questioning. How well they “sit down and shut up.” How well they “listen.”
I hear more parents talking about the “respect” they “deserve” from their children than I do parents talking about the respect they give their children.These parents demand obedience.They don’t encourage real learning. They expect a certain relationship with their children. They don’t nurture a real bond.
I’m sure some of you just snorted with disdain or rolled your eyes in derision. Why should you respect your children? They are children, after all! You are the adult!
Perhaps you should remember that your children are, in fact, people, too. They are learning to become good friends and loving spouses. They are in training to become the people you will greet in your churches, your schools, and your place of business. They are the people who will raise the next generation of children. What are you teaching them about how to fulfill those roles if you don’t show them love and respect? How can a child who has been treated as an inconvenience that must be managed learn to become empathetic and compassionate?
The way you treat your children will be manifest in the way they come to treat you and the way they treat others.
When Quinn is able to talk and to understand me, I will answer her questions — because, for now, I am her guide through this life, and the answers I give her help her make sense of the world and learn how to be a happy person in it — and how to make others happy in return. I will show her compassion and understanding when she cries — because I would hope to get the same when I was hurting or feeling frustration or fuming with rage. I will explain to her the things that are expected of her and why, and I will explain to her why we are doing the things we are doing, and why the rules I have put in place are there — because if I don’t explain these things to her, she isn’t going to learn why the behaviors I am trying to teach her are good or valuable. I will show her respect by listening to her talk and by considering her opinions, even when I don’t agree — because one day, she will be a grown woman who can choose not to share those feelings with me anymore if she doesn’t feel like she’s being heard (and I want her to share them), and because she will (hopefully) become a woman who shows others that same respect and consideration.
I will show my daughter respect and love and understanding, not only to help her become the woman I know she can be, but also to foster the relationship I hope to someday have with that woman.