I was sitting in my daughter’s dance studio waiting room, eager to relax. My husband was at home, parenting our other three kids.
I had just opened up my book when three little girls rushed past me, shrieking and wiggling themselves between chairs. Two of the girls appeared to be about kindergarten age and one was a toddler.
They continued running around the waiting area, playing some made-up game, and crashing into everyone and everything. A nearby table displaying brochures and snacks and had now become a makeshift jungle gym for the kids.
I was appalled. Not because volume or energy are new to me. They are not. I have four kids. Rather, I was shocked that the girls were allowed to treat a crowded place of business like their personal playground with no parents in sight.
The girls had knocked into another child whose father was trying to get his family through the front door and into the waiting room. The trio came within inches of an elderly woman seated near the hallway. They were so loud that I couldn’t drown out their voices listening to music through my earbuds.
For forty-five solid minutes, the girls put on a terrible circus performance, with unauthorized audience participation. I guess it was a case of out of parental sight, out of parental mind?
Finally, it was dismissal time. Two women emerged from one of the back hallways, coffee in hand, lost in a whispering conversation. Two older kids trailed behind them. The moms looked up for a split second, spotted the rambunctious younger girls who were punching a decorative inflatable, and told them it was time to go.
And just like that, they were gone, leaving a mess in their wake.
On my drive home, I remembered why I am so committed to teaching my kids R-E-S-P-E-C-T in the first place. I taught college freshman for nine years, and every semester I had a least a handful of students who adamantly and genuinely believed that when they received a bad grade on an essay, it was my fault. They said I didn’t like them. My guidelines were too strict. My expectations were too high. It wasn’t this hard in high school. Plagiarism isn’t that big of a deal.
One student showed up after being absent for three sessions. He stayed after class ended to tell me why he’d been gone. With a straight face, he said his pet lizard’s tail was severely injured, and he had to miss class to take the lizard to the vet. Then he had the audacity to ask me if he missed anything important.
These were the same students who would breeze into class long after attendance was taken, with no regard for disrupting their peers’ learning or my lecture. One student’s father called me, ranting that he was going to my boss because his son was failing my class. The father reminded me that he paid my salary and surely his son was failing because I was an unfair teacher, favoring the other students.
What I couldn’t tell the student’s father, because of school privacy policies, was that his precious child hadn’t attended class for several weeks. That wasn’t the first parent phone call I’d received. Nor was it the last.
Being a college teacher gave me glimpse of what can happen when kids don’t respect other people and spaces. These children quickly grow up to be young adults who have no personal responsibility or no essential interpersonal skills. They are (appear to be) entitled and disrespectful.
Listen, I get it. Parenting is hard. I’ve been at it for over a decade and with four kids, it’s no piece of cake. Like, ever. And of course, special considerations, some grace, and a bit of empathy need to be given to others when they aren’t behaving the way we deem appropriate. After all, we don’t know the full story.
But that doesn’t mean we can surrender our parental responsibilities. And it doesn’t mean we can’t also let kids be kids, enjoying their childhood, without raising them to be inconsiderate assholes.
So no, my kids cannot do as they damn well please. They have consequences for their poor decisions. And they don’t get to call the shots.
Now I know what you’re thinking. Raising respectful kids is easier said than done, right? Absolutely. Parenting is often a crap shoot. There’s so much trial and error. But the point is that we need to try.
When I load up the minivan and I take my four kids somewhere, say a friend’s house, my kids know they’re going to get a talking to. We discuss where we are going, what we will be doing, and what I expect of them. Sure, they might sigh and roll their eyes in the moment, but that won’t deter me.
First up, manners. Please and thank you are basics. When you meet someone new, look them in the eyes and introduce yourself in a clear voice. If you need something, ask for it. If you make a mistake, apologize.
Next, you will respect other people’s spaces. Whether it’s a business, a public place like a park or the library, or someone’s home, know the rules and follow them. If we go to someone’s house, we ask if we should remove our shoes or keep them on. We offer to bring something, usually a snack, to share. When we prepare to leave, we clean up any messes we made, and we make sure to tell our host thank you for inviting us.
And of course, be considerate of others, especially those who are younger, older, or disabled. Watch where you are going and what you’re doing. Hold the door for the next person. Stay at the table until everyone is finished eating. Don’t yell.
When we do these things, we’re showing respect for others, but also for ourselves. Because all people have value and deserve to be regarded as such.
Parents, if we don’t pay attention now, we will blink and our kids will reach young adulthood believing their future professors, partners, and bosses should cater to their whims. And as we all know, that’s not how the real world works. Not to mention, along the way, we’re ruining things for others. Having kids doesn’t give you a free pass to ignore common courtesies or avoid teaching our kids basic manners.
Parenting is hard as hell. Exhausting, demanding, and relentless. But we have to keep on trying.
Our kids deserve it.