Modeling Mutuality & Equality


 Beyond Parenting Rooted In Patriarchy

I believe the disrespectful way many parents treat children is one of the last vestiges of patriarchy still considered acceptable by many adults.   This attitude holds that any inappropriate behavior by the “inferior” reflects on and is highly disrespectful to the reputation of their “superior” and must be forcibly modified to save face.   

Our society has progressed a long way from treating other adults as slaves or chattel, but the way we treat our children may be the last stronghold of this social order of hierarchy, domination and control. 

In order to strengthen the bond between parent and child, I’m referring to a different definition of “respect” than the patriarchal one, which is automatic respect for your “superiors”, while having to gain their respect through your appropriate behavior.
Parenting with mutual respect is parenting is based on love instead of fear.   Authoritarian parenting and permissive parenting are both based on fear.  Permissive parenting is based on the parent's fear of losing the child's love and authoritarian parenting is based on the child's fear of losing the parent's love. When a parent's behavior creates a connection, the child feels that the parent is on his side, and their bond is strengthened.

A parents' effectiveness is in direct proportion to the strength of the bond they have with their child.  Anything that undermines the strength of that bond is counterproductive.
What does non-hierarchical mutual respect between parent and child really mean?  First, it is realizing that parenting is stewardship, not ownership.  It means reaching your hand down to the child’s level and lifting them up and learning how to respond rather than react to your child.  It involves vigilance in strengthening bonds rather than fostering disconnection - acknowledging when we have said or done something hurtful to our child, apologizing and asking forgiveness.  This includes responding with love and grace to their shortcomings, mistakes, and misdeeds.  In other words, be empathetic – try to see the world through your child’s eyes.
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” Hebrews 10:24
This also means we should not discipline in a way that intimidates or humiliates your child.   It involves communicating with respect – do not interrupt or put them down, allow them to ask questions.  Stress your child’s strengths and treat mistakes as learning experiences.  A child whose parent over-reacts to mistakes tends to avoid trying new things, but a sense of accomplishment gives them the confidence to persevere the next time they face a challenge. 

Accept the child for who they are.  In turn they will feel more secure reaching out to others and learning how to solve problems. As they mature, instead of always telling them what to do encourage them to come up with solutions to problems.
We cannot protect our children from every hurt, but we can nurture their confidence to persevere by maintaining a strong connection with them.   We do not have to be part of the problem.
“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.  Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you.  Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other.  And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone.  Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.” 1 Thes 5:11-15


How can we expect children to understand and practice “Love thy neighbor as thyself” if we treat them with anything less?

The most common criticism I hear of young people these days is, "They don't treat anyone or anything with respect." The truth is that children learn respect or disrespect from how we treat them and how we treat each other.   Ironically, even Christian parents often try to teach children to be respectful by treating them disrespectfully. When children live with disrespect that is what they learn.  When they live without grace or love, the same principle applies.  We can teach these only by modeling them.
Children are born with human dignity as God’s image bearers; to treat a person with disrespect is to devalue that.  Unconditional love and respect from a parent communicates to children that despite their shortcomings, mistakes, misdeeds, or accidents they are still valued human beings.  Healthy, nurturing parents respect their children as human beings – interacting with their children by extending the same grace and consideration they would like for themselves.
Since children have long been treated as "less than," or even as possessions, many adults carry "narratives" of disrespect from their own childhood. Learning to treat children with respect, love and grace may require a change of heart and conscious effort.   Our first step may be accepting God’s grace and love ourselves.   
Many people don't grow up because true maturity isn't about marveling over one's powers. It is about becoming like Christ who came not to be served, but to serve.