I must apologize. Adults are horrid examples for you. We tell you all the time “NO GRABBING!” usually as someone is prying something out of your hands as you scream at us to stop.
Watching you interact with each other is a barometer for how you are being treated by the adults in your life and what types of behaviors you are seeing.
I can see myself in you when you grab something out of your sibling’s hand without asking. I know that when you are supposed to be getting dressed I follow you around and take away everything you pick up, and I put it back down. I see the time that I grabbed a toy away from you when you grabbed it away from your sister. I hear the words that I said that seemed so logical at the time that I said them, but which seem really really unfair when you echo them back to your little brother.
And yes, I see the ways in which you are treated by other adults in your lives, but this letter is about my relationship with you and not your relationship with them. This is my thank you, my explanation and my apology all in one.
Thank you for teaching me that the way adults try to teach children about respect is all wrong. There is this fiction that says children have to earn respect by showing respect. In reality it is the other way around. You learn respect by being shown respect. Consistently and without wavering. By the adults in your life that have presumably learned about respect themselves, and by the adults that have the understanding, patience and emotional maturity that we repeatedly insist on seeing from you. After all, we have had a lifetime to develop those things in comparison to the tiny amount of time that you have had.
I’ve always understood that the way to teach you not to hit is by not hitting. This concept applies across everything. The way I teach you not to grab is by not grabbing. The way I teach you to not yell is by not yelling. The way I teach you the right words is by always using the right words. The way I teach you respect is by respecting you unconditionally, even when you disrespect me. Respect does not mean that when you bounce off the walls and speak gibberish that I need to humor you. Humoring is not respectful. But neither is shame, yelling, frustration, or making demands.
I’ve been teaching each of you about grabbing hands and asking hands. And I’ve become aware of my own hands in the process. I’ve become aware of how I want to just take the thing away from you when you’re hitting with it. How I want to just take the thing away from you when you’ve picked it up for the nine hundred and ninety-ninth time after I’ve asked you to PLEASE put it down and leave it alone and don’t even think about everpickingitupagainbecause GIVE IT TO ME NOW AGH!
You do not know what something means unless you see it and hear it and feel it. You do not understand its value unless you are given it and allowed to hold it inside yourself as the simple way in which people treat each other.
And there’s no magic point at which I have earned the right to say “Well you don’t do this for me, I’m not going to do it for you”. Because then all you learn is that it’s okay to give up. It’s okay to be disrespectful if you feel disrespected. It’s okay to throw up your hands and declare that until the other person changes you just won’t be civil anymore.
It’s not okay. People don’t treat each other that way. People treat each other with respect. This is what respect looks like. If I expect you to copy it then you need to see it more clearly, understand it more deeply, feel it more. You don’t need to be told that until you learn how to do it then you won’t see it from us.
That’s called a temper tantrum. And I can’t very well tell you “don’t throw a tantrum” if the adults in your life consistently throw tantrums of their own.
I’m putting this down in words for you because you’re going to get a LOT of terrible advice if you ever have children. You’ll be told to hit the hitters, bite the biters, yell at the yellers, and that it’s okay to say “I’m going to ignore you if you ignore me”.
You’ll be told to be a horrible example to your children instead of a good one. You’ll be told to make their life SO unpleasant that they choose to discover good behavior in the hopes that the adults in their lives will stop pitching a fit over every little thing.
And I’m hoping that you’ll be able to remember back to your childhood and see me as being a very good example of ignoring very bad advice.
I respect you because I want to teach you to respect others, and because I believe that a good and consistent example is more powerful than a bad one.
I respect you because I know that you need to see what respect looks like, and you need to be told what respect looks like, and that you need to see it often enough to absorb it and imitate it rather than memorizing nonsense lines of some play of power that adults supposedly have over children.
I show you respect because I believe that all human beings deserve to be respected, even when they are having a hard time. And because I want to earn your true respect rather than demanding you recite lines that you have memorized.
I don’t want you to use grabbing hands. I don’t want to demand respect from you. I want you to use asking hands. And I want to earn the respect that I feel is due. I cannot demand from you that you ask from me. When I demand from you all that you learn is to demand from me.
I need to be a true example of respect in order for you to learn to give true respect.