Sunday, March 20, 2011

Day 76: Don't Require, Inspire

So many parents see respect and obedience as synonymous, and I couldn't disagree more. In fact, I'd say they have little to do with one another, at least in the way the terms are commonly used.

Respect doesn't require obedience.
Obedience can be carried out devoid of respect.

So why is it parents, myself included sometimes thanks to conditioning, tend to equate disobedience with disrespect? And why do some think they're teaching their children to respect them when they're simply requiring them to go through empty obedient motions?

I think it boils down to a distorted view of respect. Does respect lie with the the person offering it, or is it contingent upon the feelings of the person receiving it?

If I'm only able to accept behavior as respectful when my reaction to it is positive or when the behavior is in line with my desires, then I'm teaching my kids the same perverted view of respect that is so widely accepted it's rarely questioned. (After all, questioning would be disrespectful, right?...!)

I'd like our home to be a place where my boys are able to develop a healthier kind of respect - what I would call authentic respect. And in order to do that, I have to put my money where my mouth is.

As impossible as it seems sometimes, I'm working hard to accept that they can respectfully disagree, respectfully decline to do what I'm asking of them, and respectfully ask me to change my mind, my request, or the way I'm communicating with them.

If respect is about a sense of worth and honor (not status or authority), it requires all of us (since respect is deserved by all) to express our genuine feelings and come to an end that we all feel positive about. Sometimes that looks the same as obedience on the surface; but instead of a person's will being forced to bend to someone else's, he willingly bends himself out of a desire to honor the feelings and needs of another over his own.

When they see me bending to meet their needs, the message they get isn't that I'm weak or easily manipulated, it's that they're respected and that giving of yourself is a privilege rather than an obligation. And in turn, I want mutual respect to inspire them to cooperate, rather than my authority requiring them to obey.

By forcing obedience and rendering children powerless, we strip them of their natural desire for cooperation and their ability to feel secure and confident enough to give of themselves freely. By not allowing them to experience a mutually respectful, and thus mutually satisfying relationship, we leave them with the impression that you only feel good when you're on top looking down.

Experience has taught me that, operating under this misguided idea of respect, we mold them into power-seeking, rigid adults who have lost the value of sacrifice and continue the cycle. And I believe this is the reason I still struggle to embrace a healthy, respectful relationship with my kids.

But I want better for them than learning to toe the line until they get their chance to be on top. I want to let them keep their power and help them use it along with mine to establish an environment that we all feel good in, a home where we all feel respected even when we don't get our way.

That's something that obedience will never create.

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