Parental Respect

Some of the most interesting parenting moments happen in public. We say and do things in front of strangers that we would never want replayed on America’s Funniest Videos. In the process of being worried about how we look in front of strangers, we can leave an impression we never meant to leave.


I’m sure the young step-mom I encountered the other night would love to have her words back. There had been a delay in our flight and we were finally all boarded, waiting on the plane to start taxiing from the terminal. The young boy in front of us had been pretty patient by my standards; more patient than a lot of the adults around us. All of a sudden, I heard the dreaded words, “I TOLD YOU…” followed by the demand, “You WILL respect me!”


I was taken back for a minute, thinking to myself, “Really? Is that really where you want to go with this?” I immediately thought about how I should give her the benefit of the doubt and stepped on any urge to have a conversation about parenting with her. Now you realize that I made some assumptions about their situation such as how was I so sure this was a step parent? Well, I saw them later and let’s just say I don’t think she was old enough to be his mother.


Did she really say anything wrong? In this day and age, shouldn’t I be happy that a parent is trying to discipline her kids and stand up for herself instead of letting this little man walk all over her parental authority? Let me make a couple of observations.


First, wanting our child’s respect is an admirable goal. However, in this case, I think what she really wanted was his obedience. Since the child wasn’t really setting out to disobey her, I wondered if he just missed the mark by a little. Did he really think in his own mind that he was disrespecting her by failing to be patient enough in a difficult situation? I figured her words left him a little confused.


Second, respect isn’t commanded, it is earned. Respect is like a lot of other feelings; we either have them or we don’t. Once we realize we have a feeling, it’s too late to try and program a different response. For instance, once we are angry about a situation, trying to come up with a more patient response will usually require getting over our pride first. That’s when we are likely to say illogical things like, “Don’t you be angry with ME!” or this one, “You WILL respect me!” Respect may come but I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that it won’t happen during the next 5 minutes or so, in the heat of this moment.


If you have to ask for respect, you probably won’t get it. In a step parenting situation, the non-biological parent may not ever see it. Step parenting expert Ron Deal used to say that it takes about a year for every year of experience with a step parent to develop the relationship you would want to have. If your step son is 14, for instance, you’ve lost 14 years of relationship and won’t have enough time to develop the rela-tionship you would like to have in the four years that remain before college. So, respect may have to wait.


Another reality that must be considered is the resistance of a step son to a new parent. It is usually better to allow the biological parent to do the disciplining for the reasons above and more. That means if you are the biological parent, you need to step up and handle the discipline if you want to keep the harmony in your home.


I hope your children respect you. If they don’t, you might start with being respectable and make reasonable demands before you actually ask for their respect. And I really wouldn’t ever demand respect as a method of developing it. I just don’t believe that will ever work.

Dr. Matt Crain writes for the Sunday newspaper from his Connecting Fathers and Families ministry.