Perhaps my title is controversial.
After all, there’s a best-selling book by the title of “Love & Respect”, arguing that men need respect primarily while women need love.
But you also can’t have love without respect. They are intertwined, and 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 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 parents 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.