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Can I Have a Little R.E.S.P.E.C.T. Please? By Brenna Smith

respect_150pxAs humans, we are hard-wired for connectedness and have a natural instinct to want to experience both being respected and also being respectful. It’s a dynamic flow- a certain way of being that allows us to be heard and seen within our respective circles of life be it relationship, work, family, and community.

Respect is a part of a broader thread of family virtues such as responsibility, kindness, love, peacefulness, courtesy and generosity that is woven into the fabric of our environment. These kinds of qualities are what generate a certain level of cohesiveness in our respective homes. I want to single out respect for purposes of this discussion because respect often carries some baggage. It can be a tricky word and when people are not feeling it, we tend to spiral into patterns of behavior that don’t cultivate respect.

How many times have we said to ourselves as parents and caregivers, “I wish my child would be more respectful to me.”  It’s natural to want to have our children behave respectfully towards us. In fact, in many indigenous cultures, respecting the elders is a part of the foundation and way of being. But in today’s fast paced, stress induced society, its not always easy to live from these deeper values. Pause, and ask yourself, are you as respectful in your thoughts, actions and words with your children as you want to be?

For myself, I realized that I wanted to explore this in more depth and that, despite my good intentions as a parent, not only could I use a little up leveling in this area, but I also wanted to create a new energy with lasting change.

How do we cultivate lasting respect within our families? I want to unpack the concept of consciously creating respect through some new insights gleaned from a little lab experiment conducted in our own home. Perhaps this can inspire us collectively to tap into the potential wellspring of connection that flows effortlessly when we are focused on creating respect and experiencing true connection with our beloved children of all ages.

To begin, let’s explore the definitions of respect:

“a feeling of admiring someone or something that is good, valuable, important, etc.; a feeling or understanding that someone or something is important, serious, etc., and should be treated in an appropriate way; a particular way of thinking about or looking at something.”

What immediately struck me when I contemplated these definitions, especially through the lens of my children, is that I don’t want them to respect me because I am an authority figure and a parent. I want them to respect me because I have created a way of being with them that warrants their respect. Respect is more than just an outward action; it’s a feeling that leads to a closer connection, which ultimately softens everything in its path naturally creating a favorable outcome.

Try as we may, there is no magic wand that will miraculously make our family walls an instant stress free R.E.S.P.E.C.T zone. However, we know through neuroscience that we can re-code our own patterns of behavior that lend themselves to living more and more from a place of respect. In order to do this, we have to get honest about our patterns and ask ourselves where we might be getting stuck. The ancient wisdom traditions call these patterns of human behavior samskaras. Deepak Chopra explains that, “We are all engaged in a continuous internal dialogue in which the meaning and emotional associations of one thought trigger the next, usually without our being consciously aware of the process.” We can think of these patterns as deep grooves in our brains that create our propensities and tendencies. We can get trapped in these habituations without even realizing it. This is why it is often challenging to break certain cycles of behavior within relationships. Think about each person in your family, and their respective patterns. It’s easy to understand how it requires conscious intention and attention that fosters an environment of respect.

Through repeated action however, it is possible to create new neural networks that ultimately shift us out of old the old grooves in our brain and into new ones. I decided to test this theory in the day-to-day cauldron of our life to see if we could rewire the respect code.

We launched a 30-day respect pilot test, which gave me new insights about the ingredients involved in creating the alchemy of respect within our family and shifting the energy of respect with our children.

Inspired by Dr. Laura Markham’s Peaceful Parenting program, we equipped our children with a secret agent known as empowerment. We explained to them, that it was our deep desire to be the most respectful we could be to them, and that we wanted to enlist their help. We asked them to do a formal evaluation of us for 30 days where they would discuss, assess, and ultimately determine whether or not we used our respectful voices and showed respect each day. To memorialize this, we used Dr. Markham’s Parent Respect Chart and they – dutifully, I might add – filled this out consistently with stars and all.

For the first two weeks, I had an impressive evaluation. I was connected; I was engaged; and I was simply in the moment with my children (ages 12, 9 and 7). Consequently, they could feel this authentic presence and reciprocity flowing like an effortless river between us. What my kids value over anything else from my husband and myself is our full presence. When I am fully present, my innate inner qualities of compassion, love and empathy naturally motivate them to want to reciprocate their own innate inner qualities. In his book Search Inside Yourself , The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace), author Chade-Meng Tan, discusses several ingredients that make excellent leaders. These are also the same qualities that perhaps make us better parents. What sets great leaders apart from the rest is they have humility and an ambition for the greater good.   He adds a third quality to the mix, which is compassion. I saw an immediate connection to how these qualities could be great parenting cornerstones. He summarizes that compassion is the, “Affective (“I feel for you”), Cognitive (“I Understand you”), and Motivational (“I want to help you”).   These are also useful ingredients to generate respect with our children. This creates the feeling that the “you” and “me” are actually a “we.”. I think “we” is the chemistry for connection, and connection is the breeding ground for respect.

However, it’s not always easy to find the connection points and our metaphorical zen or zone as parents.   There were certainly days when my kids informed me that I was not respectful to them and they begrudgingly noted it on my accountability chart. During those particular days, nothing was noticeably different in my daily demands. My work schedule was busy. I had the same to-do list and the same external responsibilities. While life ebbs and flows, and this is part of being human, I do want to point out one compelling factor from my experience. My greatest moments as a parent are those when I am consciously present and connected to my own heart. To use Chade-Meng Tan’s example, by being in the present moment and connected to my own heart (compassion), I was able to effectively tap into the affective, cognitive and motivational aspects of being a parent.   Conversely, I also realized in this process that my weakest moments as a parent are those when I am in the fear response (fight or flight response), when I am completely distracted with my thoughts that pull me away from the present moment and I am going through the motions of parenting.

This awareness was helpful for me because we get to choose moment to moment how we want to show up and every time we choose consciously, we are strengthening new neural pathways that form new patterns of behavior. There are many practices that can help us accomplish this. For me, the practice of meditation and mindfulness helps me to see my own patterns differently and creates the space to change them. Viktor E. Frankl said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

While our family experiment in co-creating more respect is by no means a silver bullet, it was a fun and illuminating experience that served as a gateway into a beautiful way of being with one another. Consciously creating respect can be a portal to a deeper connection within families and in our relationships in general. These are some examples of how this process impacted our day-to-day lives.

  • A complete opening to mutual respect on many different levels
  • Deep authentic love and connection
  • Decreased stress
  • A beautiful new opening with each child
  • Less arguing, fighting and discontent overall
  • Increased mindful living and more present moment awareness
  • Increased gratitude
  • Increased joy and harmony

So perhaps you are ready to take the respect challenge, or maybe you are wanting create something different in your own family. Whatever it is, taking action can only strengthen your own threads of family cohesiveness. For us, we have strengthened the ingredients that enable us to generate more respect in a harmonious way.

Tan, Chade-Meng. SEARCH INSIDE YOURSELF: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace). New York, NY. HarperCollins, 2012, Print.
Dr. Laura Markham. “Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids Online Course.” Audio blog post.Aha! Enginate, Sept. 2015. Web. Sept. 2015.
Chopra, Deepak. “7 Mind-Body practices to Transform Your Relationship with Stress.” Copyright 2015, Web. 29 Oct. 2015.


brenna_150pxBRENNA SMITH is a leader, innovator, and transformational change agent.  Highly accomplished in business, executive level leadership and organizational development, Brenna interlaces this background with her 20-plus years of study in the fields of personal growth and psychology, her training in meditation and mindfulness, and a rich understanding of ancient wisdom traditions, emotional intelligence and neuroscience.

Brenna is the founder of The Inspired Conversation Room working with individuals, groups and companies to transform and take strategic self-action that positions them to live a life of meaning, well being and purpose, no matter their vocation.  Brenna also is a coach, writer, poet, and  an activist for those seeking the highest potential for themselves.