My three older boys were playing basketball in the backyard when the fight began.
“He won’t share the ball.” “They’re teaming up on me.” “He’s saying I stink at basketball.” Rest assured, this isn’t an unusual scenario in our home. These boys of mine are competitive creatures. They like to win (I get it). However, it’s one thing to be competitive. It’s another thing to be cruel, and they often have to be reminded of the difference.
As the tension between them escalated, so did my frustration. After several failed attempts to encourage them to be good teammates, I came down on them pretty hard. I flung open the back screen door and demanded new, kind hearts from them. My face was angry and my tone was harsh.
Still in fighting mode, one of my boys responded disrespectfully to me. His face was angry and his tone was harsh. When I quickly corrected him, he responded with confusion. “But Mommy, that is how you just spoke to me.”
When I first became a mom, I was very much focused on raising respectful boys, and I still believe this is a good and right and essential thing to instill in my boys. However, it was several years into my parenting journey when this thought occurred to me: We tend to think that children should respect their parents, but do we believe our children also deserve to be spoken to and treated with respect?
If we remember that respect is not just the state of being regarded with honor or esteem but also a willingness to show appreciation and consideration, then our answer to that question is going to be yes.
When our children struggle with respect, I find it’s usually rooted in pride. Pride rears its ugly head when our children inherit a glorified sense of importance or superiority, or when they do not like the fact that they must submit to God and to us. The Bible, and particularly Proverbs, is loud and clear about the destructive results of pride — our pride brings us low; it breeds quarrels; it brings disgrace.
Therefore, as parents, we must be thoughtful about helping our children understand the destructive results of pride and take time to help them understand the belief (It’s all about me, me, me) that motivates pride.
What I’m continually reminded of in my own parenting is that as we model respect and consideration for our children, they will learn to return that respect and consideration to us. This does not mean, of course, that their respect for us should be conditional on our respect for them. This is simply acknowledging the power of modeling in the parent-child relationship. And in the scenario above, I modeled the very thing I desired to eliminate.
Modeling has an enormous impact on our kids, and we are wise as parents to recognize that impact and use it purposefully and constructively.
In fact, an often overlooked but significant way to raise respectful kids is through modeling communication with our spouses. For instance, if Daddy bosses Mommy around, our children
wonder why they can’t be bossy with Mommy. And if Mommy belittles Daddy, our children wonder why Daddy is deserving of their respect. Even in an argument, we can teach our children about respectful communication by avoiding insults and resolving the argument with affection. And most importantly, apologizing when we don’t!
Teaching respect, even in the little things, begins at home in their relationship with us. As one of my great heroes, Billy Graham, has said, “A child who is allowed to be disrespectful to his parents will not have true respect for anyone.”
So let’s keep on doing the hard work required to raise respectful kids. But let’s not forget to model God’s heart of gentleness and patience and grace while we’re at it!