- Lori K Walters
Help! My kids don't respect me.
“Mutual respect is the foundation of genuine harmony.” ~ His Holiness the Dalai Lama
Respect your elders.
When I was growing up, ‘respect your elders’ was one of the mostly unspoken but not-to-be-messed-with tenets of our family. It was up there with honesty and taking care of your neighbours.
I witnessed it in how my dad was with his father: never contradicting him and always letting him have the final word. Even when my dad obviously disagreed, he didn’t cross him, at least not to his face. I’m not sure I would call that respect - more like submission for the sake of keeping the peace.
My mom was religious so ‘respect your elders’ seemed more like one of the commandments, the kind of thing you would do if you were a good person.
What ‘respect your elders’ really meant to me was to obey.
What does that phrase mean to you? Was it part of your family's way of being?
This topic came up for me last week because of something I read on a parenting blog and it reminded me of a woman I worked with last summer. She came to me because of an ongoing battle with her daughter (19), who was leaving garbage, hair ties and bits of food in her mother’s car.
Things were tense between them. Every time she brought it up, no matter her good intentions or preparation, it ended in yelling, crying and slamming doors. She admitted that she went into these talks always expecting a fight and always expecting her daughter to ‘make her feel’ disrespected.
‘My daughter doesn’t respect me and I don’t know why. It’s just such a basic thing. If she respected me, she would keep my car clean.”
It’s worth noting here that ‘disrespected’ isn’t an emotion. The truth is that many of us are not very skilled in naming our emotions, nor keeping them distinct from interpretations. Here’s the difference:
Feelings are things like excited, worried, furious, confident, joyful, withdrawn, jealous, proud, etc. These are emotions that arise in us and flow through us. Energy in motion.
Interpretations sound like feelings but are actually our own perceptions of what we think someone is ‘doing’ to us. Words like provoked, unappreciated, left out, manipulated, judged, betrayed…. and disrespected. These are not feelings; they mask our feelings and needs beneath the surface.
As you take this in, notice what’s running through your mind right now. Do you use this kind of language? With whom or in what circumstances?
And then lower your attention to your heart. Can you feel an emotion underlying your interpretation?
My client was feeling a lot of anger and pain. As we delved deeper, it came to light that she was caught in a belief that, if her kids weren’t respectful, then she had failed as a parent.
She recalled instances when ‘respect your elders’ was imprinted on her – hearing it said out loud and being punished and looked down upon for ‘disrespectful’ behaviour. What she knew as a girl was that she was expected to show respect, or suffer painful consequences.
Now as a woman, she said this belief still seemed to be with her, in her. It felt like it was situated in her DNA, not just a thought or a habit, but how she was: brown eyes, talks with her hands, wakes up early, respects her parents...
And so the thought of not being respected by her daughter had her feeling that there was something fundamentally wrong with her – unrespectable, dishonourable. Or that she had screwed up the way she parented her daughter.
I know she’s not alone.
If you have also felt this, I invite you to put your hand on your heart right now and take a few gentle breaths. You have not failed as a parent and your child is not ruined. There are things you can do to point this in a different direction, I promise.
As the two of us explored the nuances of her anger and pain, she discovered some of its facets: she felt powerless to control her environment of her daily commute, she was unable to relax in the car and she was worried about friends thinking of her as a slob or a bad mother.
With more connection to her true feelings and clarity that her expectation of ‘respect’ was inherited and outdated, she was able to initiate some more enlightening discussions. No accusations or demands, just talking about her experiences of powerlessness, uneasiness and embarrassment.
‘I’m looking at the idea of respect differently,’ she said. ‘I was being entitled, expecting my daughter to show me respect and acting like she was violating one of my fundamental rights as a parent... Allie knows how I feel and is taking that into consideration. That feels even more important to me, that we’re paying attention to what’s in each other’s hearts.’
As you make the transition from a parent-child relationship to an adult-adult relationship, I invite you to consider how you are holding the concept of respect:
~ What imprints of ‘respect your elders’ can you feel from your family of origin? Was it a command or an unspoken expectation? Was it tied to how much you loved your parents or how loved they felt? Are there aspects that are important to you and/or some you want to release?
~ Do you want your children to respect you? What exactly does being respected by your kids mean to you now? What assumptions, needs and feelings underly that?
~ What are the essential qualities you desire in your relationship?
~ What next step feels right for you?
Wishing you a beautiful week.