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You Can't Have Love without Respect
Perhaps my title is controversial. Can you have love without respect?

After all, there's a best-selling book by the title of "Love & Respect", arguing that men need respect primarily while women need love. And I agree with the authors.

But you also can't have love without respect. They are intertwined, even if as genders our primary need is for one or the other. The truth is we still need both.

And I think nowhere is this truer than in the parent-child relationship.

I'm witnessing a lot of such relationships right now where the child just can't respect the parent. Either the parent has made very poor choices, and is continuing to make those poor choices, or the parent just thinks of the child as more of a friend than a child. When you try to put yourself on equal footing with your child to get the love that you desperately need, it will backfire.

Many praents fail to discipline or enforce real boundaries because they want their child to love them. If the child starts pulling away and acting up, they respond by just letting all rules go out the window. Ironically, the whole reason the parent does this is because they want love. They don't want to be "mean" to the child, because they want this super-close relationship. So they just simply don't do anything that might make the child mad.

However, if a child can't respect you as a parent, they can't love you as a friend. It just doesn't work. Children have friends, and lots of them. They don't want their parent to be their friend. They want their parent to be their parent.

Other parents fail to enforce discipline for different reasons. Maybe they're not trying for love, but they're in a difficult spot in life. They're hurting. They're finding it hard to cope with life in general, let alone being a parent. And so they just give up at being a parent. In many of these cases, the child takes on the parental role. They start making the meals, cleaning up the house, looking after the younger siblings. They start making decisions for the family, and trying to compensate for a parent who just isn't there. And in the process, they become indispensable to that parent. The parent appreciates them so much for what they're doing, and they need that child. Because of the parent's lack of parenting, the child becomes this mature, capable person. But they become that way out of necessity, and they lose out on the joy of childhood. It's an extremely dysfunctional relationship.

So we've got these three extremes: the parent who doesn't discipline because they want love, and the child who rebels; the parent who doesn't discipline, and the child doesn't rebel, but seethes inside; and the child who compensates. I've got each represented somewhere in my extended family circle. And I can guarantee you that when those children grow up, they will struggle with their relationship with their parents. They will wonder whether to continue, they will want to chuck it, but they will feel extremely guilty.

Perhaps you think that none of this relates to you, but I'm not so sure. At one point, these all may have been aberrations. But I think these types of relationships are almost becoming the norm. Parents simply don't discipline or enforce boundaries the way they did before. Perhaps you do; I hope you do! I know I do. But as a whole, we live in a culture lacking boundaries. We live in a culture that abhors discipline or rules, and loves laxity. We live in a culture that is thus destroying what is meant for the family.

It's not doing it intentionally, but that is still what's happening, and I think it's why so many teenagers are aimless today. They don't have people to point the way. We can't let kids go around watching as much TV as they want, beating up their little siblings, and staying up as long as they want. We can't have kids who throw tantrums when we don't make them what they want for dinner, or who never clean their rooms, or who talk back to their fathers. We can't have kids who feel alone in the world because their parents are too caught up in their own dramas after a divorce or breakup. It just won't work.

I was reminded of all of this recently when I read the story of Tamar, Amnon, and Absalom recently. For those of you who don't know the Bible story, it's riveting, and let me sum up. Tamar and Absalom were full blown brother and sister. Amnon was a half brother. He also really wanted Tamar, so he arranged to get her alone and he raped her and then discarded her. He refused to marry her, which would have been the honourable thing to do (even though it creeps me out). And then his father, King David, did nothing about it.

That's the interesting part, to me. He didn't punish Amnon. And so Absalom took it upon himself. He became the father figure, and a few years later, when the time was right, he killed Amnon.

Later on, Absalom led a rebellion against his father David that was almost successful. He tore the kingdom apart, murdered many of David's friends, and did all sorts of terrible things. And after years of running from his son, Absalom is killed. And what does David do? He mourns like crazy.

Interestingly, he didn't mourn like this when other children died (like Amnon or his first baby with Bathsheba). But he mourned like anything for the son who had betrayed him and basically ruined his life. He still mourned out of proportion to the way he mourned his other kids.

Now David was a stinkingly bad father. He may have been good in other ways (and he was), but he didn't know how to parent, and he threw in polygamy in the middle of it that made it worse. Absalom, then, took on the parental role, which is probably why David loved him so much. He was so responsible. He was so good. You could count on Absalom.

But in the end it backfired because he didn't respect David. So here's my challenge to all of you moms this week: do your children respect you? Do you set firm limits? Do you make the decisions in the family, instead of letting your children run the household?

There's nothing wrong with raising responsible children, but if they are responsible because you aren't, that's bad. And they will never love you later on if they can't respect you now. Don't give in to the society. Don't stop disciplining. Don't give your kids all they want. And be involved. That's the best route to real love and real family harmony.

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At 8:19 AM , Blogger Antique Mommy said…

Indeed Sheila, I think you are on to something there. And you must begin laying that foundation before they can walk.

Recently, I watched a good friend of mine (who is a very good mom) allow her 4YO to repeatedly disrespect her and her authority in a very ugly way. I had to bite my tongue. That sort of thing must be immediately, firmly and gently shut down and made clear it is not acceptable and will not be tolerated.

Love and Logic is a great "progam" for learning how to do this (I'm not selling L&L, it just made a huge difference in our parenting. Made discipline much less of an unpleasant chore.)

Kids will repeatedly try this sort of thing, but you have to be consistent in not accepting it. And then be in prayer about it constantly!


At 2:03 PM , Blogger Renee said…

Thanks for your thoughts, Sheila. Our culture tells us that it's wrong for us to assume authority over our children - we're all equal. And so those of us who believe that parents are there to lead and discipline our children can get to feeling that we're wrong. We really need continual reinforcement in order to stand up to the culture. I find that now that my children are older, I am reaping the benefits of the limits I set when they were young.


At 4:21 PM , Blogger Berji's domain said…

My daughter is nearly 3 and I am constantly witnessing her trying to be an adult. She tries to call us by our first names, she repeats back to us reprimands we have given her,etc. Some of it seems harmless and cute at first BUT my husband and I are also incredibly aware that it in fact is NOT harmless. She is learning about her world and she needs to learn that their are people in authority over her that she must show respect to. Her parents being the first because as she learns respect towards us, she is also learning respect towards God.


At 12:20 AM , Blogger dianne - bunny trails said…

Wonderful post, Sheila. I know that I don't always do this as well as I ought, so I really appreciate this reminder.

As AM mentioned, it is so hard to watch parents allow their children to be out of control and disrespectful. As much as they think they're being nice to their kids, they're not.



At 10:28 AM , Blogger The Happy Domestic said…

It's interesting that you started off the post by stating that respect is a requirement for love. That is so true in all kinds of relationships. And it's good to reinforce this idea in marriage and parenting, because you're right, it's the only way to foster healthy relationships with children as well as spouses.

I wonder why we always seem to focus on the husband and the parent as the deserving recipients of respect. As you mentioned, while "he" may need respect most and "she" may need love most, we BOTH do need BOTH. This is also true of parent/child relationships. We need to treat our children respectfully, just as we expect to be treated. Model the behaviours you want to see!

Let me illustrate this in a similar analogy. A police officer has authority to enforce the law, and to arrest you if you do not obey it, but ultimately this is for your own good. Police authority is based on the premise that people respect the law represented by the officer. However, unless the officer also respects the individual's rights, he/she will be an agent of injustice. People will be more likely to obey the law and respect the police officer if they feel like their rights are respected.

So, you see, respect is required to go both ways.

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About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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