I’ve heard this comment more times than I can count, “Respect is earned…not demanded.” Yet with my children I sometimes have the tendency to think that there might be some exception to the rule of this statement. Somehow the fact that they are innocent, young, and immature gives me the idea that I, as an adult, deserve their respect regardless, period! For me it is not that hard to evaluate the true value of this perception. All I have to do is rewind the clock of my own journey through life and try to remember who were the individuals that I respected the most during my childhood and why I felt that way. It is true that during my childhood it was inconceivable to behave in a disrespectful manner towards elders, but this really had very little to do with how much I respected them deep inside. My outward appearance of respect towards someone else probably holds less than five percent the value or my overall inward assessment of the individual in question.
True respect is much more than learned behavior and it has very little to do with any demands imposed by the individual that is being assessed. In fact, just because social customs and ethics rule my outside behavior, it does not mean that they also rule my mind. Think about it, how many times have you been at the beach or next to a wonderfully looking pool filled with nice clear template water during an extremely intense hot day? Does your mind not wish you could take off all your clothes and dive in totally naked? On the other hand, how many times have you acted on this mental image and impulse? If you knew that you were all alone, would you take off all your clothes and jump in? My social behavior is mostly governed by the rules I have learned as a child based on the society in which I live in. The point is, my outward behavior of being respectful towards others does not always match my inwards feelings on the same subject. This is as true now as it also was when I was a child.
I should not be surprised that the rules in my mind have not really changed much with the passage of time. However, many rules have been altered considerably in the last 30 years in the outside world that surrounds me. I no longer live in the days in which nudity, profanity, and violence are relegated to adult eyes only. Everywhere I look today humanity’s true inner impulses are open to public display via television shows, movies, news, music, and even children’s video games. No matter how hard I might try to shield my children from it all, eventually I will lose because I am one and they are way too many for me to have any realistic control over. For this same reason I should not expect my children to have the same degree of self control as I was able to develop as a child with respect to their outward behavior. I am not washing my hands from the responsibility of teaching them and hopefully being able to censor as much as possible their ability to access today’s reality, I am simply stating the facts that I cannot pretend that they won’t somehow, sometimes be exposed and influenced by it.
Today, more than ever, my job as a father is much less about teaching my children to respect me and other adults, as much as it really is about making sure that I earn their respect. I might still be able to teach them social skills on how to address their elders regardless of how they feel towards them deep inside, but it is extremely doubtful that I will be able to demand the same respect that was demanded from me all of the time as a child. In fact, I contend that demanding respect is today as effective as demanding that the guy at the corner quickie store must sell you the winning numbers for tomorrow’s lottery drawing…good luck with that!
So what can I do as a father to truly earn my children’s respect? Some of the answers are obvious and I am sure you have already thought about them too. I can start with giving a good example on my own behalf. I can make sure that they see how I respect my own parents, my spouse or life partner, and of course my children too. Self respect is a crucial lesson. Do I honestly believe that they will respect me if I spend my time involved in conducting risky or unhealthy behavior? They might grow up to be outstanding men and women because they learned from me the things that they should not do, but this will not help my cause in earning their respect. My attitude towards awkward moments with strangers is more important because of how I exercise self control, than because of winning or losing. When someone cuts me off on the freeway, it really does not help my cause to yell out the window or flip the bird at the individual that just did this to me. On the other hand, if I am able to take a deep breath, exhale, and let it roll off my previously altered skin, during that 15 second experience my children have just learned that I am a bigger man for taking the higher road and not acting out in anger.
A few months ago as I was driving off a freeway exit with my mother, oldest sister, and my five year old niece in my car, a drunk driver unexpectedly ran into us from behind. Fortunately for us we were in a much larger car than the culprit of the accident and we did not suffer any major injuries. At the moment of the accident somehow I went into an emotional autopilot mode and calmly asked everyone in my car if they were OK, and then proceeded outside to help the drunk man get out of his own totally destroyed vehicle. After calling the police I even called a tow truck for the other party in the accident since he was not in any condition to do so himself. As frustrated as I was with the moment, the fact that everyone in the vehicles had survived, instantly made me thankful and I realized that the rest was all just “stuff” that could be replaced. Eventually the cops came, tow vehicle also arrived, and soon we all went on our way to continue our existence. On our departure my mom made the comment that she was impressed that at no moment in time I had lost my cool and that I had taken it all in strides. To me, that was the biggest compliment that she could ever give me because I have worked really hard in the last few years to learn to control my anger and not allow these kind of moments to rule me and in the process set a terrible example to my children. My kids were not in the car, yet my drive to be a better father leading by example has truly made me a better person which I hope is worthy of their respect.
One of the most common mistakes I have found myself making with regards to earning respect from my two sons is my inability to sometimes project a more positive outlook on their childish mistakes. Even though I know better and truly understand that they are still not men, I too often find myself putting some of their “boys will be boys” behavior into a higher expectation category than I really should. It may sound normal for me as a father to assume the stricter and more stringent personality because of my desires to make men out of my boys, but I am under the impression that this behavior does very little for my cause towards earning their respect. They are children, they are supposed to make all of those mistakes, and at the least instead of looking down on them when this happens, I think it would be much more beneficial to allow them to make their own self assessment of their downfalls. I know of nobody that enjoys being looked down upon, much less when the reasons for those heavy eyes landing critically on their person take an air of superiority. Instead, now I am trying to learn how to lower myself to their level when mistakes happen, and allow them to tell me why they think it is or is not OK to do what in my mind perceive as wrong. What this compromise of minds gives me is the opportunity to learn how they think and also show them that they, just as I, do not have to agree in order to respect each other’s opinion. In the end, is that not a much better lesson than demanding they respect my own ideals and way of life?
I wish I would of known these things sooner. I am sure that our mutual understanding and respect would be much more solid. If from the get go I would of taken the time to listen more than to demand, the walls I am now having to climb in order to understand my teenage son’s decision processes would be much lower. It is not so much about regrets as it is about having to work much harder to undo some of the damage done because of my inexperience and lack of wisdom. My best advice with regards to gaining the respect of my children is that I should pay much more attention to my own behavior than to theirs. If I spend all my time watching, correcting, and judging them, then what time do I have to discover my own flaws that are creating the wrong impression about me in their minds? I need to try to be honest with myself by carrying an imaginary mirror to watch the reflection of my own actions. Am I proud of what is reflected? I must learn to earn their respect by being able to respect myself first.
Submitted by DAD4LIFE of
Teen Boys and Dads