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Q: The Family: A Proclamation to the World lists respect as one of the nine pillars of happy and successful families. What does respect mean? I think that very often respect is mistaken for fear. For instance, a parent might feel respected if their child fears them enough to obey them. I am having a hard time believing that this interpretation of respect is what the Lord intends for families to be successful and happy. Can you offer your perspective on what respect means as one of the pillars of happy and successful families?
A: Thank you so much for reaching out to me with this. Respect is a wonderful concept, one that comes down to personal choice. Some choose to treat others with respect, no matter who the others are, because they want to be respectful people. “We treat others with respect not because of who they are, but because of who we are” is a popular maxim, and with good reason. On the other hand, many people only give respect when it is earned.
In parenting and in our families, respect is not something that we can expect, command, force, or require. It must be freely given. However, the Lord has revealed effective ways to maximize the likelihood that others will choose to give us respect.
In Doctrine and Covenants 121, Jesus Christ told the Prophet Joseph Smith how priesthood holders were to earn respect and loyalty. The principles hold true for any stewardship relationship, including parenting. After warning that attempts to “exercise control or dominion or compulsion” would result in the loss of influence and authority, God expounds:
“No power or influence can or ought to be maintained… only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned. By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile. Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy. That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death. Let thy bowels also be full of charity…and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God. The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever.” (Doctrine and Covenants 121:41-45)
Dominion means sovereignty. It is authority, stewardship, and respect. The Lord told us in these verses how to earn dominion “without compulsory means.” That means respect earned without force, fear, or intimidation.
We earn respect through persuasion. This means we don’t just say “Because I said so, that’s why!” Rather, we help our families to understand the “why” behind our rules and boundaries.
We earn respect through long-suffering. We must be patient when our children try our patience. We must respond with firm kindness when they’re out of control.
We earn respect by gentleness and meekness. We may raise our voices from time to time, but strategically and not out of anger. We manage our tempers and apologize when we fail at it. We see that every time a child is “acting out” it is due to an unmet need, an emotion they don’t have the maturity to cope with well, or simply a poor choice. We are teachable and willing to learn from our children as we expect them to learn from us.
We earn respect through love unfeigned, kindness and pure knowledge. We learn true principles and skills of healthy relationships and practice these skills with love. We don’t “fake” our love or interest. If it’s important to our kids, it’s important to us.
We earn respect by not being hypocritical. We know that if we don’t practice what we preach, then what we say is irrelevant and without authority. How can we expect respect when we don’t do what ask them to do? And if we’re expecting them to be forgiving and patient when we fall short (and we will), then we must pay them the same courtesy.
We earn respect by only correcting with sharpness when the Holy Ghost prompts us to do so. There are times when the hammer must drop. But it is always out of love and concern for the individual, not in order to right a wrong we feel has been done towards us. We seek neither vengeance nor comeuppance. We then always, always show an increase in love to make sure the child knows our sharpness was about a behavior, not about them.
We earn respect by practicing charity as found in 1 Corinthians 13. We earn respect by carrying ourselves with the confidence that comes from garnishing our thoughts, words, and behavior with virtue. We earn respect when we carry with us the Holy Ghost. Then, the scripture tells us, our dominion will flow to us forever and without compulsion.
We don’t earn respect through criticism or force. As President James E. Faust once said, “Your criticism may be worse than the behavior you are trying to correct.” Fear isn’t respect. Criticism isn’t parenting.
God bless you. I hope this helps.
JONATHAN’S RECOMMENDED READING ON THIS SUBJECT
“Unrighteous Dominion,” Elder H. Burke Peterson, July 1989 Ensign.