Respect is claimed, not owed by a father


Is a father owed respect from his children? Actually, the question, from a father, was rhetorical: Isn’t a father owed his children’s respect? The dad in question maintains that because he loves his children unconditionally, provides their standard of living (he is the sole breadwinner), and has made many sacrifices — financially and otherwise — on their behalf that he is owed their respect. By the way, his children are 6, 10, and 14, and the disrespect at issue — sass, ignoring, demands, emotional outbursts and the nebulous but widespread “bad attitude” — is emanating primarily from the older two but the 6-year-old is beginning to follow her siblings’ footsteps.

No, a father is not owed respect from his children. Respect is not an entitlement. It is not really earned, either. It is claimed. An individual who occupies a leadership position — including the leadership of children — claims the respect of those he leads by consistently acting in a morally, ethically and authoritatively competent fashion. A leader who displays those qualities will be respected. That is true of leadership wherever it is found — in the business world, classroom, military, church and family.

Likewise, a leader who does not consistently act in a competent fashion may obtain obedience, however reluctantly, from the people he or she leads, but will not obtain their respect. The problem here, even when the people in question are children, is the leader, not the led (albeit the led are certainly behaving problematically). The fact is, leadership positions are sometimes occupied by individuals who are not effective leaders.

Parents fail to claim their children’s respect by yelling, giving into emotional outbursts, and trying to be liked (that’s the short list). Today’s parents are especially guilty of the latter. Today’s parents, by and large, do not seem to understand that proper parenting is an exercise in leadership. They seem to think that proper parenting is largely a matter of striving for and maintaining a wonderful relationship with one’s kids.

As anyone who understands the mechanics of proper leadership will attest, attempting to have wonderful relationships with one’s presumed followers — no matter the context — renders effective leadership impossible. In parenting, one of the signs of a parent who is prioritizing relationship — a parent who wants to be liked, in other words — is children who lack respect for said parent. They often act toward the parent as if he is a peer because unbeknownst to him, that is what he is trying to be. The problem is his doing, but because the most overt misbehavior is coming from the kids, the parent thinks the kids are the problem. That’s an example of judging the book by the cover. It’s a mistake that leads to ramping up discipline, a response that not only fails but also usually makes the problem worse. Ironically, whereas striving for relationship undermines leadership, proper leadership eventually leads to proper relationship.

When a child’s disrespect is the issue, the person whose behavior needs to change is the parent (more often than not). The good news is that children possess an almost built-in respect-and-obedience-response to adults who act competently. Another way of saying the same thing: Proper child behavior is not obtained by using proper consequences (reward and punishment); it is obtained by delivering proper leadership. With any child, consequences will have to be occasionally used, but consequences that are not backed by competent leadership will fail.

The dad in question then asked, “But shouldn’t respect, like love, be unconditional?”

Again, no. The two are different issues. Love that isn’t unconditional isn’t love. It’s manipulation. But respect that isn’t unconditional is still respect.

I suddenly feel an Aretha Franklin flashback coming on.

Visit family psychologist John Rosemond’s website at www.johnrosemond.com; readers may send him email at questions@rosemond.com; due to the volume of mail, not every question will be answered.



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