Sunday, November 22, 2009

A little thing called respect

Respect (which goes hand in hand with politeness) goes a long way in this world of ours especially if you happen to be a person of color.  In my last post, I discussed my feelings on the practice of saying sorry, specifically the idea of forcing an apology or giving an apology that is not sincere.  But there are many other practices/ideas that are related to a little thing called respect.

The hubby yesterday said to me that it's time for Z1 to stop calling adults by their first names.  He wants Z1 to preface any adults' name with a proper title:  Aunt, Uncle, Mr. or Ms.  To him, failing to do so is definitely a sign of disrespect.  Maybe I'm more progressive but I really don't mind children in an informal setting calling me by my first name and I don't mind Z1 calling other adults by their first names either.  By adults, I mean non-related adults.  I still expect Z1 to call his aunts "Aunty", uncles "Uncle", Grandma, Grandpa, whether or not they are related by blood or by marriage.  The hubby, on the other hand, absolutely does mind when he is called by his first name by a child or when a child is calling other adults by their first name.  Well, I had to give it a little thought because, obviously, we have to have some kind of agreement on the issue.

I'm from a culture where respect for elders is of the utmost importance.  I mean, any Nigerian child can tell you of the numerous aunts and uncles they have (only a handful of which are actually really related).  There are people older than me that to this day, I would never attempt to call by their first name without tacking on an Aunty or Uncle.  I remember this huge dilemma I had as a child when the mom of an American friend of mine wanted me to drop calling her Aunty.  I didn't really know how to address this woman because I knew if my mother heard me calling her by her first name, it wouldn't be pretty.  So I stopped calling her altogether.  I wonder if she ever noticed.  Anyway, because of my numerous "fake" aunts and uncles, I wouldn't ask my kids to call any non-related adult Aunty or Uncle.  If we're going to use titles, they're going to be formal--Mr. or Ms. although they can tag that on to the first name (as opposed to the last name) of the adult they're talking to the hubby is okay with that).

In one sense I definitely see the value in using proper titles because it really does set up a space for formality, a distinction between me and you, a respect.  If you call me Ms. Originalwombman and I call you by your first name without a title, you'd feel a way--and vice versa.  In some instances, setting up this respectful environment is useful like at the workplace or in the classroom.  But when it comes to interpersonal relationships between children and adults, is it still useful or does it set up a hierarchy of power where children are at the bottom and adults at the top?

You see, for me parenting is requiring a whole shift in my paradigm.  I'm currently reading a book called Connection Parenting and the underlying idea is that no, you shouldn't treat children like adults but you should always treat them with respect.  That is the only way you can in turn expect respect and this is the only way to truly stay connected to your children.  And connection, the book posits, is what children need most in this world.  That makes total sense to me.  So how does using titles to address adults correspond to that understanding?  If respect is a two way street, what special title am I going to use to address children?  Now, I've had teachers who insisted on calling their students "Ms. So and So" especially when I was attending my all girls high school. I always liked this.  I honestly did feel respected in a genuine way--as if the teacher thought me to be on his/her level, i.e. just a capable a human being.  I've also taught in a school where the students called the teacher by her first name.  I can't say I really liked that dynamic though--students really were haywire at times but I don't know if it was the teacher herself (who didn't command respect) or the fact that
they didn't use titles.  I tend to think it's the former.

I am happy to say that I started a Saturday job at a learning center about 20 minutes from here.  Most of the students call the teachers by their first names.  After encountering a particularly surly and sarcastic boy yesterday (who, damn it, happens to be the only Black child I've see walk into the place yet and who burst into tears when I asked why he was being so rude) I am certain that I do not want to be called by my first name.  I don't even want my first name in play at this place because I do not want to invite any form of disrespect.  I don't want to deal with any bullshit at a part-time Saturday gig.  So I guess deep inside I really do feel that using titles does, at least in some part, promote respect.

But is it fair to expect children to tag on a title of respect to address adults when adults are not expected to do that to children? I'm not sure.

I am sure that is vitally important for my boys to be viewed as respectful, courteous, polite young men--as non-threatening as possible.  So I may have to push my misgivings aside so that they get into the habit of addressing adults as Mister or Ms.

I am sure that a little thing called respect, in this world, in this skin, goes a really, really long way.


Anonymous said...

I think that you bring up a lot of interesting points in this post.

I am one of those adults that really do believe in calling adults by some sort of title, though I'm American black. Like you, I have a thousand Aunties and Uncles, few of which are related. I also require my friends kids to call me by some sort of title, even if it's Miss Firstname. I just honestly think that culturally Americans have swung the pendulum so far left that there is little respect shown to adults by kids. Perhaps that's hierarchical but it's what I think. On the converse, I think it's possible to show children that we respect them and their ideas without giving them a title. I think the fact that we listen and reason with them, more than the adults of our generation did with us goes a long way in terms of respect, instead of "be quiet" and "because I said so."

So all in all,I agree with the spirit of your post, but I'd be damn if some child called me by my first name as if I'm their peer!! I believe that developmentally kids can't separate how to treat an adult as a peer in some respect and as an authority figure in another. At least that's been my experience.

Anonymous said...

Connection Parenting is hands down my fav parenting book and not just because I know Pam Leo. It is a great read because its baesd in reality.

Anyway I have always been on the fence about the best way for kids to address adults. I grew up calling adults Mrs So and So. Yet while I tried that approach with my own kids, I find it only works well with older adults. Most of my friends do not want to addressed so formally.

Its funny because I work with kids but the kids address us all by our first names and in a strange way they have more respect for us then their own parents. I suspect its be because we respect them but don't stand on formality.

Congrats on the job!

Blessed Rain said...

Very good points, we just started our daughter (age 6) calling adults Mr & Mrs (Last name) while I am an American I fully understand the adopting and adding in extra Aunties & Uncles - my children have several "extra's".
The enforcement of extra manners is always better then allowing total disrespect and rudeness which now seem to plague our country.

So thank you for being a good parent raising your children to have respect for self and others.

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