“You kiss your MOTHER with that mouth?”
“Don’t talk to your MOTHER like that!”
“Don’t use that kind of language in front of your MOTHER!”
Conventional wisdom teaches us that mothers deserve a special honor, not just respect but reverence from their children. There are countless quotes from books, movies, television and iconic figures lifting mothers up onto their pedestals, praising them for their martyrdom and wisdom. Quite frankly, I don’t want that particular brand of “respect”.
My children tell me no. They call me out when I’m being unfair. They aren’t always compliant. But most of the time, they are respectful. This can be difficult for some to comprehend. Respect for one’s parents is generally thought of as synonymous with obedience. I’m not interested in obedience. I respect a great number of people whom I disagree with from time to time and part of being an adult is knowing how to respectfully disagree. And yet, too many learn this lesson the hard way (often after losing jobs, friendships, marriages) because they must un-learn the childish notion that respect and disagreement can’t coexist.
My children, J in particular, are also sarcastic. He will sometimes say things that have the appearance of disrespect but are really just an inside joke. His friends are often appalled and make comments about it. Usually along the lines of, “I’d never get away with talking to my mom like that!” Sometimes I’ll gently let his friends know that it’s okay because I don’t feel disrespected. Usually though he handles it himself. I’ve heard him tell a few people, “We just have a good enough relationship that we can joke around with each other.”
And that’s what it boils down to. Relationship. Motherhood is a choice to enter a relationship with a person you know nothing about. The next choice to make is whether you will use your time together getting to really know each other. Blind obedience and forced politeness don’t really allow people to be themselves. And the person using force and coercion to achieve them will never be seen as a whole and complete person. Even if children grow to ultimately admire and respect someone (as many do who are raised in homes that are both loving and coercive) they probably won’t see them as equals. Even in adulthood they may hide parts of themselves away from their parents out of “respect” and when those parents inevitably falter they’ll be shocked and disillusioned. This is not the parent/child relationship I’m seeking.
I don’t want to be revered. I want to know my children for who they really are and for them to know me.