“Who are you talking to?” I asked my son, brow furrowed.
He hadn’t used any vulgarity, and he hadn’t even bothered to roll his eyes while saying it, his new signature move as a pre-teen. My frustration lay in the fact that he was speaking to me with his face buried in his phone, and punctuated his sentences with “bruh”. Bruh?
“For the millionth time, I’m not your ‘bruh’. And look at me when you’re speaking to me. Okay?” I responded, still visibly annoyed.
Cue the anticipated eye roll and an exaggerated sigh for good measure. “Yes ma’am. Nobody else’s parents care about stuff like that except you guys.”
The scene is familiar. It’s a small thing, but it’s only one of a dozen small things that irritate my husband and I while many of his peers’ parents just shrug them off. Sitting and listening to his friends talk to their parents, I frequently hear exchanges that make me look at the parent in anticipation of what’s to come. I’m honestly shocked and confused when it seems to barely register with them something that would have made me give my child “the look”. You know the one — no words are necessary when we give them that look.
My husband and I wonder if we really are being dramatic, or has respect for parents just changed over the years?
Then I noticed something while in my toddler’s playgroup that made me question whether or not kids were being disrespectful in general, or whether they were just disrespectful to me.
For context, let me tell you about my family dynamic. All of my siblings and I are parents ranging in age from 27 to 39, but we’re a part of two different micro generations within our family. Half of us are ‘Xennials’, the recently dubbed micro generation born between the late 70s and early 80s according to recent studies (think pay phones as teens, iPhones as adults). The others, born only slightly later, refer to the music I danced to at my prom as “the oldies”. They’ve never even seen, let alone used a working pay phone. These micro generations within broader generations influence the landscape of parenting in drastic ways. How could they not?
When I take my toddler to her playgroup, at 38 years old, I fall almost in the median of the age range of the other parents. Some are in their mid-forties, while others I could have given birth to myself, yet here we all convene with two-year-olds who will grow up as a part of the same generation.
Why does that matter where our kids are concerned?
My parents expressed a firm idea of what respecting your elders looked like, and looking to their similarly aged peers, I received pretty much the same messaging if I stepped out of line at their houses. The same went for my parents’ generation looking to my grandparents’ generation. But, with almost 18 years between this young mother and I at playgroup, we were raised by parents who were themselves from different generations. The guidelines we received growing up might be completely different from each other. Consequently, so might be the way we raise our children to respect us.
There’s also culture to consider. I remember digging into dinner at a childhood friend’s house before her mother had said “grace”, and the horrified look her mother gave me. We didn’t say grace at my house. On a broader stage are the cultural expectations I’ve had to teach and navigate as a Bermudian-American who frequently travels back and forth between the two countries. I’ll be publicly and politely reminded that my manners could use some freshening if I forget to address an elder I encounter on public transportation or in the streets of the tiny island.
So maybe respect for parents hasn’t declined so much as our definition of it is mutable, and we should account for that. It looks different for kids these days because it might look different to the parents that are raising them. Moreover, we all have varying definitions based on our cultural backgrounds. If the definition of respect varies, so will the display.
We’re clear on what respect looks like in our own home, but our children follow those guidelines loosely elsewhere now. We tell them to be mindful, observe, and learn what the rules of engagement are with their elders (and peers) both here and abroad. We believe that people will tell you how to best respect them. My children are learning to listen and act accordingly.