Is a father owed respect from his children? The dad 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. His children are 6, 10, and 14, and the disrespect — sass, 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 leads but will not obtain their respect. The problem, even when the people are children, is the leader, not the led. 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 do not seem to understand that proper parenting is an exercise in leadership. They 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 followers renders effective leadership impossible. In parenting, one of the signs of a parent who is prioritizing relationship — a parent who wants to be liked — is children who lack respect for this parent. They often act toward the parent as if he is a peer, because that is what he is trying to be. The problem is his doing, but because the misbehavior is coming from the kids, the parent thinks the kids are the problem. It’s a mistake that leads to ramping up discipline, a response that not only fails but also usually makes the problem worse.
When a child’s disrespect is the issue, the person whose behavior needs to change is usually the parent. 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?”
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.
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his website, Rosemond.com.
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