One of the most common questions that I hear from parents is some version of this one: “Am I supposed to let my kids walk all over me?”
The answer is, “No.” But, there’s an important caveat that you must first understand:
It’s not your child’s job to give you the respect you have never learned to give yourself.
Often, when parents ask me this question, they are trying to figure out how to get their kids to respect them. I understand this desire. However, as a parent, the key to not letting your kids walk all over you is to learn how to honor, respect, and value yourself first. Here is what I mean by that.
In general, it doesn’t work to demand respect from our kids, no matter how old they are. Instead, learn how to command respect. There is a big difference between the two.
Demanding respect places the focus on getting the other person to act a certain way. When you demand respect, you end up in a power play with your kids, which never works. You might try to force, coerce, or manipulate them into feeling or behaving a certain way toward you.
Commanding respect, on the other hand, keeps the focus on you. Instead of engaging in a power play, you focus on behaviors that establish the respect you deserve. For example, if your teen is yelling at you, don’t yell back. Instead, you might lift your chin up, look them straight in the eye and say, “I will not stand here while you speak to me like that.” Then back your statement up.
You don’t have to allow yourself to be mistreated. In fact you shouldn’t. And, the more you grow to respect yourself, the less tolerance you will have for being walked on.
However, problems arise when parents try to demand respect from their children to fill a void that is not the child’s responsibility to fill. For example, if you are feeling disrespected, consider the following questions before approaching your children:
- Do you like who you are?
- Do you value your time, talents, and gifts?
- Do you honor the sacrifices you’ve made as a parent?
- Are you proud of the work you’ve done?
It’s far more important that you can say “yes” to these questions than trying to get your kids to validate your efforts.
In fact, if you can’t answer “yes” to these questions, nothing your child does (or does not do) can make up for that. Remember, your most important job as a parent is to fill your own tank up first.
Consider how God parents us. God does not demand our respect. He commands it in the following ways:
- providing clear guidelines rooted in love
- giving us the choice to spend time with him
- seeking to understand our fears and doubts
- calling out the better parts of who we are
- guiding us toward what is in our best interest
- showing patience with our grievances
- being worthy of our trust
God can do all this because God is complete in himself. He longs for us to grow in respect for who he is, not because he needs it, but because it’s good for us.
As parents, we’re human. Don’t get me wrong. But, we can learn from the example our heavenly father gives to us.
One of the best ways to earn respect—no matter how your children respond—is to work on becoming someone you respect first.
2 Key Skills in Any Relationship
It’s hard to develop a healthy sense of pride in yourself, especially as a parent. You want your kids to see how hard you are working on their behalf. I get it. But, the truth is, the less you need their approval, the likelier you are to earn their respect. Here is one way to get started.
Being in a healthy relationship with any other human requires two key skills:
1.) the ability to stay true to and connected with yourself; AND
2.) the ability to listen to and stay connected with the other person.
Both skills are essential. Both must be exercised simultaneously. And, if you think this sounds simple, congratulations. You have unlocked one of the most elusive doors to parenting a child without losing yourself.
If you focus only on #1, you might not do the important work of helping your child become who they are. If you are only connected to yourself, you miss out on what you have to gain from listening to your child. You might:
- miss out on the opportunity to understand their perspective
- feel threatened if they are different from you
- look to your kids to validate you
- not understand why your adult child has distanced from you
On the other hand, if you focus only on #2, you might be getting lost in your role as a parent. You’ve become so consumed by your children, you’ve lost sight of yourself. You may:
- not say “No” when your child oversteps
- feel unseen or invisible
- struggle with burning out
- risk enabling your child
Our culture tends to extol only one of these 2 skills, depending on who you listen to. You might feel like you should ONLY care about yourself, or you might feel like you should ONLY care about your children.
But, the key to healthy relationships with your children over the long haul is to learn how to master both.
Start by identifying which of the 2 comes easier for you.
For example, you might ask yourself:
- Do you feel defensive when your child shares a perspective that is different from your own?
- Is it hard for you to see your adult child operating outside of your comfort zone?
- Do you crave validation for your perspective?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, I commend your honest self-awareness. It may be that you are doing well in category 1. You have a clear sense of your own perspective. If you want a long-term relationship with your child, however, you might need to start listening hard to who they are and what they like. This does not mean you have to disappear. However, you might need to ask yourself, What do I have to lose by getting to know their perspective?
On the other hand, you may fall into the second category. For example,
- Do your children have a sense of who you are and what you value apart from them?
- Do they mock or make fun of you?
- Do you have a hard time sharing your honest perspective?
- Do you walk on eggshells all the time?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then you will need to work on making your voice heard in healthy ways. Being a parent does not mean you stop being a person. As a person, you are separate from your children, even though your lives are closely linked. You have value in yourself, in who you are apart from your role as their mom or dad. It’s OK to let your children know what you think and feel—even when you feel hurt. It’s not their job to validate you, but it is your job to show up as a whole person, complete with your own perspective and genuine emotions.
Remember, you can’t force your kids to respect you, but you can work on being the kind of person you respect. As you do that work, you will begin to command the respect you deserve.
For Further Reading:
To learn more, please check out my e-book, “5 Steps to Reclaim Your Voice in Relationships” as part of my Claim Your Yes New Year’s bundle.