What is the most important virtue for a parent to teach a child? Honesty? Generosity? Patience? Compassion? All these are not only important but vital to the development of Christian character. But God places one character quality above all others, the fifth commandment: Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the Lord your God is giving you (Exodus 20:12). Paul reiterated the importance of this commandment when he wrote, “Honor your father and mother which is the first commandment with promise” (Ephesians 6:2).
Naturally the question arises as to how we can teach respect to our children. One of the most important methods is to model it ourselves.
Recently, when I was at my daughter’s house, I needed a flyswatter. I had no idea where she kept hers but because I have always kept mine on top of the refrigerator, I checked to see if it might be there. Lo and behold, she keeps hers in the same place I keep mine. It was not coincidental. As a child she learned what I did and as an adult she continued the same practice. The expression “more is caught than taught” is true for so many things we want to teach our children. If we want respectful kids, the first thing to do is to model it ourselves.
Respect for others
When our children were still young, a wise elder told me that one of the worst things we could do to our kids was to have “Roast Pastor” for Sunday lunch. I had never heard that expression but understood his meaning. He referred to the sad practice of many in which on their way home from church they criticize the pastor and his preaching. This elder had seen families in the church do this and he had experienced the resulting disrespect the children had for the church leaders.
I thought of this a few days ago when talking with someone who was very critical of one of their church leaders. I was hoping that as parents they hadn’t discussed their grievances in front of their children. It is hard not to, because we are always going to see some things differently, but it is a critical thing not to do in front of our children. It breeds disrespect, and as Christians, our desire is for our children to grow up to love Christ and His church.
The admonition to model respect goes beyond just the church setting. In everyday life, we ourselves must show proper deference to those in authority even if we don’t agree with their political views or opinions. In fact, every person deserves to be respected in that man is made in the image of God.
Respect for spouse
I recently read an article written by a woman who says that in a family the children should come first. She stated, “Your spouse is an adult, capable of meeting his or her own needs.” Wow! It makes me wonder why the spouse would stay around. If children are number one, where is the unity in that marriage? Where is their respect for the father when he comes in second or third or fourth on the list? It reminds me of the time my daughter was passing through the tough teenage years. She came to me one day and said, “Whom do you love better? Me or Daddy?” She was saying, in effect, “Pick your side.” I told her that I loved her father the most. Many years later she said to me that at first, she wasn’t happy with that answer, but she wasn’t as upset as she thought she’d be. She said it actually gave her a sense of security. Parents must keep a united front. When our children would ask their dad or me if they could do something, we would ask them, “What did your dad/mom say?” We would back each other up. As parents, we didn’t always agree on rules, but we saw the need to be one voice in the eyes of our children.
It is often stated that respect must be earned. Certainly it is true that respect should be earned, but children must likewise be taught respect for those who are in authority. For example, a child should never be permitted to speak disrespectfully to either parent. Because we are from the Southern United States it was natural for us to teach our children to say “Yes Sir and Yes Ma’am” when we asked them to do something or when we asked them a question. It’s seems like such an unimportant little thing, but it serves to show proper respect.
Respectful words alone are insufficient however. The words need to be accompanied by a respectful attitude. I have a five-year-old granddaughter, and her mother can read her attitude by her eyebrows. When her daughter becomes angry and doesn’t want to do something, she scrunches them up. Her mother tells her to change her eyebrows. She is, in effect, saying “You need to change your attitude.”
The Ultimate Goal
The purpose of showing honor and respect to parents and others is not an end in itself. As I mentioned, my main purpose in teaching respect to my kids was so that they would be able to learn to love and respect and obey God later on in life. I wanted it to be as easy as possible for them to choose Him and live for Him.
The Lord saved me at 14 years old and has proven Himself faithful every day of my life.
Joshua 1:9 is the verse He specifically gave to encourage me before we went as missionaries to Honduras in 1989. “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Jim and I just celebrated our 43rd wedding anniversary. The Lord has blessed us with 3 kids and 9 grandkids (all of them in the cover image).