Monday, March 7, 2011

Day 64: R-E-S-P-E-C-T

This picture pretty much sums up the most common view of respect. It also happens to sum up everything I never want to be as a mom. 

We spend a lot of time talking about respect in our home. In fact, if we could do a Facebook-esque calculation of our most used words, I'm confident it would make the top five.

We talk about respecting bodies, ours with good nutrition and safety and others with gentle touches or no touches at all. We talk about respecting rules, at the library, the grocery store, a friend's home, our own home. We talk about respecting objects, taking care of the things we have and especially those that belong to someone else. And we talk about respecting boundaries, those we set for ourselves and each other.

Because of this, Jackson is the only two year old I know who has used the phrase "please treat me more respectfully" at a playdate. It's also why he's the only two year old I know who, having been scolded today for digging through the recycling, responded with, "Mommy, that wasn't a very respectful way to talk to me. The polite thing to say would have been, 'Jackson, would you please look with your eyes and not touch with your hands.'"

He knows that, as a person, he's worthy of respect, and that makes him capable of seeing everyone else in his world in the same way. He treats his brother, his grandparents, his friends, and anyone else who crosses his path with the same respect and dignity he wants in return. Not because he "should." Not because I told him to. Not because he's afraid of repercussions. Because it's what he's experienced and now part of who he is and how he communicates - with everyone.

I don't ask him to treat me respectfully because I'm his mom. Being a parent doesn't make me worthy of special treatment. But being a person does make me worthy of dignity and respect, and this is why he chooses to use kind words, gentle touches, and sometimes even to put my needs before his own (otherwise known as obedience in the "do as I say" circles, but much different because his motivations are his own desire to show love and cooperation, not externally imposed fear and coercion).

He may be a child, but he's no less a person than me or any other adult. He's not waiting to earn full personhood and its accompanying respect as he matures or reaches an arbitrary age or station in life. From the moment he arrived on this earth, he was a whole person with the same right to dignity and respect we reserve for adults.

Respecting the street boundary
This is not a culturally accepted view of children. On the contrary, our culture tells us children are to be seen and not heard, to do as we say not as we do, to fall in line or else - natural conclusions if you see children as property, I suppose. If you own your children, it only makes sense that you should do whatever you want, treat them however you like and expect them to do only as you say and treat you only as you like. A person owned is certainly not going to be seen as a person deserving of his owner's respect.

The irony is that by withholding respect from our children, we render them incapable of giving the respect we demand from them. How can we expect them to offer us something they've never experienced?

Even with the firm foundation we've built, I find that a string of disrespectful behaviors from Jackson can almost always be mapped back to my own disrespectful behavior as a trigger. Respect is meant to be mutual, and when we place ourselves above our children and rob them of the respect they deserve, we would be foolish to expect anything other than disrespect in return.

Despite all my shortcomings, I take heart in the fact that my son feels safe to approach me (respectfully!) with constructive criticism about how I communicate with him. I literally swell with pride when I see him refusing to accept disrespect from me, his peers, and even other adults. I'm far from perfect, but he wouldn't expect to be treated with respect if he didn't experience it at home on a regular basis. We must be doing okay. 

Now sing it with me; you know you want to...

♫ ♪ "What you want, baby I got it
What you need, you know I got it
All I'm asking is for a little respect...

R-E-S-P-E-C-T find out what it means to me..."♪♫ ♪ 

Tell me that's not going to be in your head the rest of the day!


  1. Sometimes we struggle with this with our older son, who is about a year older than your son and probably doesn't speak as well. He had a very involved medical history and, unfortunately, it's really hard to perform medical procedures on a toddler in a respectful manner. I'm glad to say that with the little bit of medical issues that remain, we are able to speak to him respectfully about them, and he takes a more active role. He picked out the color of his hearing aids and is very proud to tell people. He gives himself his own medicine (I draw it up and hand it to him, and he does it). And he knows his way around the doctors' offices.

    But as I read this, I wonder if his medical history is the reason why we sometimes have trouble, even as we continue to model respectful behavior to each other and to him and his brother. That he felt so disrespected when he was younger that he reverts to resistance whenever he feels the least bit threatened.

    Hard to say with our younger one, who isn't even two yet. He does the hitting thing and the grabbing thing, and our responses vary depending on the context, but he has learned that when I say "nice" in response to his hitting me, he'll stroke my face affectionately and give hugs.

  2. It's so great that you're able to give him a little ownership over his treatment now! Circumstances (big, small, good, bad) always have an effect, but I'm sure there's a heavy personality influence at play with this one too. I think respect comes naturally to some and is more learned for others - perhaps why my son "got it" at an unusually early age. Feeling respected is extremely important to his sensitive little soul, as are other people's feelings (he's literally the only child I know of who never went through a hitting or grabbing phase, for which I take *very* little credit). A child with less of that trait wouldn't tune in so readily. We're about to test this theory out since Max has an opposite personality but will be raised in the same respectful environment. Stay tuned for the results. :) I think we can all at least rest easy in the fact that if we're modeling a respectful relationship and respectful communication (with them and others) they will eventually learn how to reciprocate that - even if it does take a little longer than we'd like.