I strongly believe that the word respect has two very different meanings. Some people use the word in the context of treating others compassionately, or as they would like to be treated no matter what their sexual orientation, gender, race, or economic status is. The other definition, one that is truly cruel, is that some people deserve to be treated better than others, and if they aren’t treated that way, they will then in turn not treat others as even human.
I refuse to let my son grow up believing the second. How will I do that? By respecting him. I will show him what respect truly looks like, because I don’t want him growing up feeling like he is ever worth less than the next person.
In our home, respect is simple. Before anyone does anything, we think of how it will effect someone else. We show a little compassion, and with it comes respect. Manners also play a big part in how we treat one another. If Caleb says please, the chances of us doing something for him go up. We never had to teach him to say please, but instead from day one when we wanted something from him we would say please and thank you as well. His fourth word, was really two words, and was “thank you.” That says a lot.
We also respect his autonomy. He’s still working on that with us, but I have great faith that by us giving it to him, he will in turn give it to us. If he doesn’t want hugs or kisses, we don’t force them. He doesn’t need to sit next to us if he doesn’t want to. We ask, or in important and much needed cases explain why we have to, before diaper changes. Giving him that respect, we’re teaching him that he has control over his own body. In the future that can only aid him when it comes time for romance, or the unfortunate sexual attack. Teaching him to respect his own body as well as others starts from infancy.
Another area we work hard on to show respect is during discipline. We try as hard as possible not to yell, and we do not hit. You can’t teach a child not to do these things by turning around and doing them. Children learn by example. Instead, as we would with any adult, if Caleb has done something wrong we pull him to the side, remove him from the area he’s misbehaving in, and explain what he’s doing wrong. We do not shout, we do not hit, but instead we change the circumstance and ability to get into trouble. Occasionally there will be a tantrum. We pick him up and give him a hug until he’s able to calm himself down and talk about why he can’t do what he’s been doing. Sometimes he doesn’t want that talk, so we let him lay on the ground or sit in a chair until he calms himself. The beauty of it all, is that it works. He learns, not because he’s afraid of us, but because we took the time to explain. We don’t judge him as bad because he’s doing something we don’t like. Instead, we take the time to teach him what to do instead. These fits or moments in general are so rare, because of the mutual respect we have for each other.
Respect means that every person (big or small, black or white, poor or rich) deserves to be treated the same way we would like to be treated. Not only is it respectful, but the only way to be truly ethical.