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Silence or counsel?

My mother hardly spoke of it. But when she did, even in old age, hurt haunted its telling.

On a Sunday morning, right after worship, Mom took my two brothers and me to visit her parents. I was in second grade. One brother was in kindergarten, and the other was three.

The Adams’ farm was our Disney World. It thrilled us with live acts starring chickens, dogs, pigs, and cows. Its mud and muck, ladders and lattices were playgrounds. Adventures always awaited in the barn, haymow, machine shed, and an assortment of outbuildings.

But not on this day. Mom warned, “Do not leave the house. Do not get your good clothes dirty.”

Of course, my kindergarten-age brother and I chafed under being tortured in my grandparents’ living room by adult conversation. When we realized that Mom was fully engaged with her parents, we tiptoed toward the door and eased into the backyard.

We were escapees for only a few minutes. Transformation to ragamuffin doesn’t require longer. Our shoes were caked with mud. Our pants glowed with grass stains. Our white shirts had smears of something unspeakable. Mom’s voice shattered Adventureland. “James Allan! David Dean! Get in here this instant.”

Punishment should have been swift and painful. But Grandpa stepped between Mom and us. “Fran,” he said, “you should have realized this would happen. If you didn’t want them to get their clothes dirty, you should have had them change.”

An instant later we were on our way home. Grandpa saved us from the hurt of a spanking, but Mom experienced the hurt of feeling disrespected and shamed by her father.

Mom’s story urges me to evaluate how well I show respect for my daughters’ parenting. My daughters are great parents. I admire their wisdom, commitment, and sacrifice. However, from time to time, I do feel I have advice to offer. Then I struggle with choosing counsel over silence. I know my Savior’s advice about “speaking the truth in love” and saying “what is helpful for building others up” (Ephesians 4:15,29). Gratitude for his grace prompts me to honor his words, but applying his advice is challenging.

Several questions help with that challenge.

  • Is there a risk of significant harm? (By the way, I’ve never answered that question with yes.)
  • Is this the right time and the right situation for sharing my “wisdom”?
  • How can I give advice in a gentle way that shows love and respect?
  • Have I put the best construction on the situation? Do I understand the backstory?
  • Have I asked, “Is there a way I can help?”
  • Is this a difference in parenting styles or is this a parenting problem?
  • Have I taken my emotional pulse?
  • Have I asked Jesus for advice? Have I talked this over with my wife?

Now it’s your turn. Parents and grandparents, have a conversation.

James Aderman and his wife, Sharon, raised three daughters and are now enjoying their 10 grandchildren.

Oops! Grandma gave Garrett a sucker.

You’ve decided not to give your children any sugar until age three. Your friends get it, but your parents—not so much: “Is this a millennial thing? You ate sugar when you were little, and you turned out all right.”

You chuckle at the teasing, but you give a gentle reminder when you leave little Garrett with his grands one afternoon: “No sugar, remember?”

Still, Grandma gave Garrett a sucker. Sugar on a stick. The telltale artificial coloring is still on his lips when you get back. Now what?

You could blow up on the spot: “What did you do?”

You could go all passive-aggressive: Say nothing and never ask the grands to babysit again.

Or you could wait a couple days and then have a little talk, having the spouse whose parents did the deed take the lead. (If that spouse is afraid to stand up to Mom and Dad, you might have bigger problems than Garrett’s sugar intake.)

Here’s one way this conversation could go.

Set the scene: “Mom, Dad, can we talk about something a little difficult?” (This preemption gives your parents the chance to be noble, to be big. It also sounds serious—Do you have cancer? Were you fired?—which makes the real topic almost a relief.)

Say what happened: “Garrett ate a sucker at your house.” (A little gentler than “You gave Garrett a sucker.”)

Explain how it made you feel: “That disappointed us so much. This sugar thing is important to us. It’s not the end of the world that he had a sucker. We’re not mad. But we want to go back to our no-sugar policy.”

Make a request: “Can you back us up on this, even if you don’t really agree with it?”

Notice what’s not happening in this conversation:

  • You’re not attacking them: “How could you do this? You just don’t respect us.”
  • You’re not patronizing them: “We realize you don’t know as much about sugar as we do.”
  • You’re not arguing the policy: “We’re right about this. Sugar is bad.”

You don’t need to convert them. It doesn’t matter whether they agree with your no-sugar rule or not. Because the real point is this: You’re the parents. God gave Garrett to you to train up in the way he should go (cf. Proverbs 22). While you’ll always honor your father and mother (Exodus 20:12) and be open to suggestions—my parents gave me tons of excellent parenting advice, and so will yours—you’re allowed to determine your own parenting procedures.

Chances are, at the end of your 30-second speech, they’ll agree to respect your wishes. Then you can quickly smooth the rough edges by offering a face-saver: “On another topic, do you think we have to be worried about Garrett’s rash?” Or maybe even wrap it up with a little comedy: “Glad that’s settled. Let’s all have some cake!”

Laurie Gauger-Hested and her husband, Michael, have a blended family that includes her two 20-somethings and his teenage son.

Have you had a similar experience? How did you handle it? Please share your thoughts at forwardinchrist.net.

Defining respect

People want respect, and yet it looks different for different people. We think we deserve respect, and yet Jesus, who truly deserves our respect, never demanded respect from anyone. I am realizing that I use the word “respect” often without much thought to what it really means.

Some very wise women in my circle of friends describe respect this way:

“I believe that respect is attached to value. If you can understand that someone is valuable, whether you agree with them or not, you hold them in high enough regard to allow them to be who they are.”

“Fearless submission. Honoring others above one’s self. Knowing you do not have to protect and defend your ‘self’ but rather live outrageously free in relationship with others because God is on his throne. Respect is not trying to control the outcome but rather letting it unfold.”

“Respect is love in plain clothes.”

“Recognizing the value God placed on another person because of his Son’s life and sacrifice (Jesus died for that person) and deferring to them because of their value to God.”

“I think respect grows from the seed of humility that you plant in his light and care for lovingly.”

Pretty profound if you ask me.

So how do we teach these concepts to our children? Follow Jesus’ example. Model giving respect to others. Jesus showed respect to those he encountered—from the woman at the well to doubting Thomas.

Paul tells us, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” What does submitting have to do with respect? Re-read the answers my lovely friends shared about what respect means. It is submitting. It is putting others ahead of ourselves. It is not demanding. It is loving.

Show your children what respect is by respecting them, by respecting your spouse, by respecting our leaders, by respecting the referees at their games. Showing them how to respect others melds into showing them how to love—even the unlovable, even our enemies, even if we think it’s not deserved, even people with whom we disagree and even those who disagree with us. Respect can and does go a long way.

Our children are watching

“Each of you must respect his mother and father” (Leviticus 19:3). This is undoubtedly a direct command from God. The explanation to the Fourth Commandment says, “We should fear and love God that we do not dishonor or anger our parents and others in authority but honor, serve, and obey them and give them love and respect.” Unfortunately, we are born into the world with a sinful nature, and showing respect does not come naturally. As parents, this means that we need to teach our children how to show respect.

We don’t have to look far to find examples of disrespect. How often are grade-school gyms filled with parents and coaches who show disrespect for authority by disagreeing with every call made by the official? And what about political campaigns? Respect is replaced with mudslinging, lies, and rudeness.

How easy is it to think we have the right to talk poorly about co-workers, second-guess our bosses, lash out at a nearby driver, be short-tempered with the waitress who isn’t meeting our expectations, put devices before a child or spouse, or speak rudely to that person who just can’t see things from our perspective? Unfortunately, these examples all came to mind because at one time or another, I was guilty of them myself.

The reality is that our children are watching. I was stopped dead in my tracks one night at our family campfire. While making s’mores, the inevitable happened. My five-year-old son dropped his marshmallow into the fire. With great disgust he shouted, “C’mon! You’ve got to be kidding me!” My wife’s jaw dropped. Sadly, this didn’t sound odd to me. I had shouted the exact same words with the exact same emotion at the TV while watching a college game about an hour earlier.

More important than pointing out examples of disrespectful behavior, we can joyfully model for our children how to respect others. A great way to begin teaching the lifelong habit of respect is to teach proper manners. We can also teach our children how to respect our country and those who make it great. We should also expect our children to respect their pastors and teachers. We can do this by praying for them, speaking well of them, never questioning them in front of our children, and expecting that our children listen to them the first time.

Learning respect will not happen without a few bumps in the road. When a child shows disrespect, it is our opportunity to show love to them by holding them accountable.

Be sure to spend time with your children in his Word. Remind them of God’s love for all people. One of our family’s favorite songs states, “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world!” When we show respect to all of God’s creation, we show honor to him.

Aaron Bauer and his wife, Sara, have four children between the ages of four and eleven. The couple has been teaching Love and Logic parenting classes for the past eight years. Aaron teaches at Garden Homes, Milwaukee, Wis.