Remember Aretha Franklin’s song? “All I’m askin’ for is a little respect…R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Find out what it means to me….” (Listen to Aretha Franklin explain it.) Our spouse, our children, and our parents are still asking for “a little respect.” They still want us to “find out what it means” for them. In fact, respect is foundational to a healthy family. Magda Gerber (founder of RIE and passionate “educarer” of children and parents) defines respect as accepting, enjoying, and loving family members as they are and not expecting them to perform beyond their ability. Without this mutual respect, families crumble. I realize I’m probably “preaching to the choir” but even the choir falls into subtle disrespect that undermines healthy relationships. Just consider some of these subtle ways we disrespect our fellow family members when we don’t know “what it means” to them.
- Our child falls and scrapes his knee. He starts to cry. We disrespect his feelings when we say, “Oh, you’re ok. Quit crying.” We show more respect by saying, “Ouch, I bet that hurt. Do you need some help?”
- When our spouses do a chore and we redo it because it didn’t meet our standard, we disrespect their competence and ability. (Yes, I know…I apologize for reorganizing the dishes in the dishwasher.) A simple “Thank you” shows much greater respect.
- Our children start a task but, due to inexperience, they take “too long.” We grow impatient and finally say, “Get out of the way. I’ll do that or we’ll be here all day.” Oops, we have disrespected their independence and opportunity to learn. We show respect by patiently waiting or perhaps offering, “I’m glad to help if you want.”
- When our child makes a mistake and in frustration we yell, “You know better than that. What were you thinking?” we disrespect their ability to learn and grow. A respectful response would sound more like, “What did you learn from that experience? What will you do different next time?”
- Sometimes we jump in to fix a problem for our children or spouse. Unfortunately, we disrespect their ability to problem solve. We exhibit respect by observing, waiting to see what they do to solve the problem, and offering help if they ask for it.
- We disrespect our children’s developmental abilities when we expect “too much” of them. For instance, expecting a toddler to sit still for a long period of time…or a teen to never roll their eyes…or a five-year-old to never spill a drink. We can respect their developmental ability by letting them do the part of the task they can do and helping with the rest. We respect their developmental abilities when we patiently deal with difficulties and accidents that arise as a natural part of development. In other words, we show respect when we do not cry over spilled milk.
- “Will you ever grow up?” and “You never help around here” are statements that disrespect our family members’ desire to cooperate. Respect for their desire to cooperate is heard in statements like “Could you help me get dinner together please?” and “Let’s get your room cleaned up together.”
- When we tell our spouse or children “You don’t want that” or “You’re doing this whether you want to or not” we disrespect their desires and ability to choose. We can show respect for their desires and ability to choose with statements like “Would you rather do this or that?” Or, “I didn’t know you liked that. What do you like about it?”
With all the different areas in which we can show disrespect, you can see why we need to “find out what it (respect) means to me” for each family member. Disrespect is subtle. It creeps in quietly if we don’t consistently practice respect. Yet all we really want “is a little respect.” Sing it with me. “R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me…” and then give it to everyone in your family. They’ll love you for it and you’ll love the joy it brings to family.