The Audacity of Disrespectful Children
Has your child ever disrespected you? You know what I mean, the nasty attitude that gets your blood boiling! I mean, we give and give, and yet they still defy our authority!
Just the other day, I arrived home from an overwhelming work day, hoping to find some solace at home with my wife and children. From past experience, I knew how easy it was for me to bring the worries of work home with me. So before leaving my truck, I offered a silent prayer for help to be patient with my children.
As I walked in the door I could already hear screaming from 9-year-old daughter. I knew that scream well, and it usually meant one thing: her teenage brother was bored.
Sure enough, older brother was criticizing her for listening to the “dumb” soundtrack to the The Greatest Showman “a thousand times a day.” (That’s not too much of an exaggeration, I might add.) He then sat at the piano and started to play loud enough to drown out the music. This only increased my daughters rage. As she approached the piano, my son pushed her down to the floor.
In less than 5 minutes of my arrival, I went from praying in my truck to lecturing and criticizing my son. He responded to me with that classic teenage “whatever” look and followed it up with an excuse: “What? I was just playing the piano and she started it by yelling at me.”
(Now you have to understand that even more than disrespect, I detest excuses! Excuses are one of the most damning influences in life. And so when my children blame or excuse themselves from reality, I really have to get a grip on my emotions.)
Yet here my son was double-dipping: 1. Disrespecting me as I lectured him about kindness and his actual involvement; and 2. Excusing himself from any responsibility in this fight. Feeling overwhelmed with work and then coming home to this scenario—a scene not uncommon between brother and sister in our home—only left me feeling more justified in verbally shoving my son to the floor, as it were.
A Double Standard
Now let’s push the pause button.
Do you see a pattern here? Have you discerned a double-standard? Am I any more justified in my anger and my actions than my son?
You see, we parents can quite easily justify or excuse our own anger and disrespect toward our children for a any number of thoughts and feelings. Here are only a few:
- “I’ve taught you better than this and so…”
- “After all that I do for you, this is how you treat me?”
- “I am your father, you don’t talk to me like that!”
- “I don’t struggle with the same things, so you obviously aren’t trying hard enough…”
- “You always embarrass me when we’re in public because you can’t stop…”
Each of these thoughts or feelings are excuses that stem from the parents’ pride. The first three listed stem from a sense of entitlement. The third and fourth could also come from a feeling that the parent is superior or better than to the child. The fifth is focused on the parents’ need to be seen a certain way.
These are only a handful of countless ways we parents justify our hard heart. Remember, all excuses—including those listed above—are different forms of pride.
But I’m the Parent!
Just because we are the parents, this doesn’t mean we have the right to see our children as objects rather than children of God. Our religion is really to see things—especially ourselves and our loved ones—“as they really are and as they really will be” (Jacob 4:13). This cannot be achieved without the assistance of the Holy Ghost.
Here I quote Elder Jeffrey R. Holland:
In my righteous indignation (at least we always say it is righteous) I have to make sure that I don’t end up doing exactly what I was accusing [my son] of doing—getting mad, acting stupid, losing my cool, ranting about it, wanting to get my hands on him—preferably around his throat—until, before I know it, I have checked my religion at the door! No, someone . . . has to live his or her religion because otherwise all we get is a whole bunch of idiots acting like moral pygmies.
It is easy to be righteous when things are calm and life is good and everything is going smoothly. The test is when there is real trial or temptation, when there is pressure and fatigue, anger and fear, or the possibility of real transgression. Can we be faithful then?
Look on the Heart
When I arrived home from work, I felt as though I was entitled to peace and quiet and therefore was justified in my anger toward my son for pushing his sister. This does not mean his actions were appropriate, but neither were mine. Too many parenting experts in this situation would offer advice that only focuses on changing the child’s behavior. We must always try to remember what the Lord told Samuel:
For the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.
Indeed, we must see beyond behavior, we must see the whole person. This includes looking upon our own hearts, be they hard or soft, warring or peaceful. The book The Anatomy of Peace puts it well:
Generally speaking, we respond to others’ way of being toward us rather than their behavior. Which is to say that our children respond more to how we’re regarding [or seeing] them than they do to our particular words or actions. We can treat our children fairly, for example, but if our hearts are warring toward them while we’re doing it, they won’t think they’re being treated fairly at all. In fact, they’ll respond to us as if they weren’t being treated fairly.
As important as behavior is, most problems at home, at work, and in the world are not failures of strategy but [heart] failures. When our hearts are at war, we can’t see situations clearly, we can’t consider others’ positions seriously enough to solve difficult problems, and we end up provoking hurtful behavior in others.
Are We Blinded?
Often the disrespect I see from my children has more to do with the condition of my heart rather than what I see. A hard heart blinds me to seeing my child’s heart and knowing how to best respond. Even when our children are clearly disrespectful toward us, that doesn’t justify a similar hard-hearted, disrespectful response. I did have a choice with my son, and I chose to see him as irrelevant, an obstruction, an object.
So before you try more lecturing or punishing disrespectful children, take stock in the condition of your own heart. Discern how you are seeing or regarding your children. Uncover any excuses you may consciously or unconsciously be using to justify your hard heart. As I always tell my students: check yourself before you wreck yourself . . . and others around you. This will require applying the wisdom found throughout the standard works: humility, faith, repentance, and charity. Only then will light and truth illuminate our vision to see clearly.