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Mutual respect in families

Elizabeth Myers
The Samaritan Counseling Center

The secret of any healthy relationship is mutual respect.

It might sound obvious, but we often see disrespect in the family system – between husband and wife, between parent and child, between children.

Sometimes we are not even aware that disrespect is prevalent, though it becomes pretty obvious when couples start quarreling or when kids grow older and start pushing back at parental authority. Often it is manifested not in what is being said – because most of us do try to be respectful – but in tone of voice.



Family life is obviously much more than just a group of people living together. In a healthy family, each individual is giving the respect and space he or she deserves, allowing him or her to grow, to express feelings and to blossom.

Obviously, mutual respect has to start between husband and wife. Respect is about letting each individual in the partnership be a complete person, with his or her strengths and weakness. It is not about control. It is never about putdowns.



It is about support and caring in all interactions. It is about always being aware that the other is a child of God of equal worth and importance to oneself.

How often have we heard others or even ourselves say, “You have to do this,” or “No, you can’t do/have that.” And when questioned, we hear or give the response “Because I’m the parent,” or “Because I pay the bills.”

These interactions are about power and control, they are not about respect. A short explanation of why, and if appropriate, a discussion in which the parent hears the child’s point of view is much more conducive to an atmosphere of respect.



A parent needs to show respect for the decisions made by a child. It’s not about agreeing with the decision – it may even be about letting a child make mistakes and then learn from them.

If given respect, most children will exhibit good common sense in their decision making, probably more than we expect. Such children then grow with a sense of self-respect that will permeate their lives.

One important way that self respect develops in a child is from the mutual respect learned in the family system. Moreover, if a parent does not respect the decision of the child, how does he or she expect the child to respect their decisions? And if a child sees disrespectful interactions between the parents, or hears the parents talking disrespectfully about others in the community, the lesson that is learned is that disrespect is acceptable.

The concept of respect needs to be introduced at a very early age. Children who are shown disrespect at an early age become angry and resentful, growing up to be angry teenagers who may make destructive, sometimes irrevocable, choices.

These decisions actually often come from a lack of self respect, because the concept of respect has not been internalized.

Of course, not only does each individual within a family deserve respect, but so does the family unit. There must be a fine balance between the well-being of each individual and the well-being of the entire family. This balance is modeled by the parents to the children.

The secret to any successful relationship is mutual respect. This leads to a steady flow of love, support and understanding and forms the basis for friendship. It means that each individual in the relationship respects the other’s feelings, space and life journey.

Elizabeth Myers is the Executive Director of the Samaritan Counseling Center. She can be reached at 970-926-8558 or at emyers@samaritan-vail.org. Visit the Center’s website at http://www.samaritan-vail.org for more information.


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