I often say that my first child was my guinea pig. I was a young mother with only my own childhood experience as a compass. Little by little, I learned the craft of parenting by reading, asking questions and studying child development and occupational therapy. I also learned through trial and error, constantly re-evaluating what worked and what did not. I have always loved my children unconditionally but I had to learn to respect them unconditionally.
Respect can only grow in a safe environment. A child cannot show his parent respect unless he feels respected, unconditionally accepted and supported. It is learned, modelled and experienced. In part 1 of Respecting Your Child, I discussed the importance of unconditional acceptance, the value of teaching manners, and respecting a child’s need for autonomy. This week in part 2 of Respecting Your Child, I will expand on trust, using your own experience to inform your parenting, distancing yourself from your child’s own experience, and knowing your role as a parent–all important components of respecting your child.
- Trust and respect go hand in hand. Sometimes parents have to close their eyes and hope for the best. The first time my youngest walked to school all by himself was one of those times. Independence requires trust. Your role as a parent is to teach the foundational skills needed and then to let go. If your child makes mistakes, you have to trust him to learn from them. If he succeeds, you have to trust him to keep applying what works. Trust and respect go hand in hand. Your child can only feel safe if he knows that you trust him to do a task, figure it out if things don’t workout as planned, and then get up and try again. By giving him the space he needs to problem solve through life, you are showing him respect.
- Remember your own childhood and life lessons. Parents want to save their children from heartaches. We cannot and should not. Keep in mind that some of the best lessons in life are the ones that we struggled through, whether in our relationships, work endeavors, or physical/health challenges. Pleasant or not, these life experiences form the brickwork of who we are and are unique to us. Children are individuals. They need a chance to build their own unique brickwork. We can help by gently guiding and helping them think through it, not by allowing them to dodge hurdles. Resilience is built through experiences rather than avoidance.
- Don’t take anything personally. Children and parents do not always see eye to eye, but we don’t have to. We all have moods, individual perspectives and our unique memories of common events. The more parents accept that their child’s point of view does not have to match their own, the more the child feels accepted and the better their relationship will be. Most relationship problems are about a struggle for control between parent and child. By not taking anything personally, you remove the power struggles, eliminate the need to control the outcome, and foster mutual respect.
- Know Your Role. I am not my teenagers’ best friend, nor do I try to be. A parent’s perspective is different from that of a peer or friend. Like a good friend, I am always there to listen, guide and support, but my ultimate goal is to have them fly independently towards a meaningful life. The unconditional love you have for your children is different from the love you can have for a friend. The amount of time, selfless energy, and dedication you invest in your children in only part of the equation. Although children may be fulfilled in their friendships, throughout their lifespan they still need the unique quality of the parental relationship in their lives–even when they have children of their own. When you know your role, you foster mutual respect because strong relationships are built on consistency and clear boundaries.
My guinea pig is all grown up but I still work on the components of respecting him everyday–as I do with all my other younger children. Every time I would like my children to work harder or differently at something, I have to remind myself to be gentle and to meet them where they are at. Sometimes, I simply watch their experience being mindful that it is theirs to have. I respect who they are in that moment. This allows us to keep the gates of communication always opened and flowing. I trust them to figure it out, and in that vote of confidence lies the strength of our parent-child relationship.
Want to read more on relationship-based parenting? Check out part 1 of Respecting Your Child.
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