I live in NC, but grew up in the Deep South. I know what you’re thinking, that NC is the Deep South – but it’s not. I was born in Northeast Florida and lived there until I was 13, when my parents, who were very young and naïve, ripped my life out from under me and moved us to Baton Rouge, and then Houston a year later. I grew up thinking that anything above Interstate 10 wasn’t really the Deep South. Anyway, you’re probably also thinking that Florida isn’t really “The South” because of all the Yankees there. Well, that might be true below I-4, but in NE Florida there were no Yankees – except for the ones in the Navy families. Just about everyone I grew up around spoke with a drawl and had red necks from being outside 11 months out of the year. Most importantly, every child used terms like ‘yes sir’ and ‘no ma’am’ and ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and ‘may I’ and so on. We were drilled on the idea of respect. Children back then were free to roam the neighborhoods all day with no parental supervision because all of the parents trusted their children to use their best judgment and utmost respect – representing their families well. Why? Fear of being beaten within an inch of our lives, that’s why. Well maybe not within an inch of our lives, but we definitely learned at an early age that respect for others was a top priority in life. And when we didn’t adhere to it, we were punished. With paddles, belts and switches. Kids didn’t show their asses in public, throw tantrums or talk back to their parents in any way, where I grew up. When they did, I remember looking at them like they were freaks at the fair – and thinking that they must have been Yankee children. Yes, my parents screwed up a lot, but the one thing they didn’t screw up on was instilling the concept of respect in their children.
My wife is from NJ, and was raised an only child. I was the oldest of four children and the only boy. Our own children do not practice the hardcore terms of respect that I was raised on. And that’s party because none of their friends do. It’s hard to instill practices that are not common in peer groups. I blame pervasive media (see Hanna Montana) for this, along with the fact that everyone’s transient these days and Yankee culture has completely infiltrated Southern culture. Plus, as mentioned earlier, NC isn’t really the Deep South. For all I know, they may have never said ‘sir’ and ‘ma’am’ here.
And you know what? I’m ok with our children not saying ‘yes sir’ and ‘no ma’am.’ It sucked having to be so subservient as a child. Besides, we’ve got good kids who aren’t disrespectful of most authority figures (other parents, teachers, coaches, etc.). Just us – the two people who brought them into the world and who provide them with basic necessities such as sustenance, shelter and transportation (not to mention all the fun stuff), that they routinely take for granted. Thanks to my wife’s upbringing, and the fact that we don’t endorse violence as a motivator, we do not employ corporal punishment. Yes, I’ve spanked them when absolutely necessary – so that they have a reference point – but they’re not outside breaking their own switches off of trees or anything.
Don’t get me wrong, our children love us. But when it’s time to do something to help the family, or when they’re told to do something specific and they don’t feel like doing it – they pout, talk back or throw tantrums. And this bothers me terribly. On Friday, both girls had the opportunity to learn about respect in a new way.
In the past, when they would react disrespectfully, we’d put them in their rooms or remove certain privileges – and that would work in the short term. But then as soon as they’d forgotten the lesson, they’d pull the same stunts again. Maybe the punishments weren’t severe enough? Maybe corporal punishment was in order? Maybe we should ship them off to places where respect can be enforced by people who are well trained in it? Or, maybe, it was time for a lesson in contracts?
On Friday, after two separate bouts of disrespectful actions aimed at us, I’d had enough. I revoked privileges that would have had the girls spending the night at (separate) friends’ houses, and decided that this wasn’t enough. So, as both girls were writing stories to me as to why they were being punished, I sat down at my computer and this one long sentence poured out of me like I was Atticus Finch:
I, (daughter’s name), do hereby acknowledge that from this day forward, my disrespectful actions to my family and friends will result in the revocation of rights and privileges that include, but are not limited to, extracurricular activities such as soccer practice, soccer games, sleepovers, summer camps, movies, play dates, and other things not listed here that will be selected at the complete discretion of Mom and Dad.
I created one for our seven-year-old with different activities, then added signature and date lines for the child and both parents. I think the kids were in awe of the legalese as they silently read the contracts with eyes like saucers. Sure, I wasn’t really saying anything new here – as we routinely revoked privileges in the past, but this was different. This was in writing. And it had a fancy, lawyerly font at the top of the page stating ‘Contract for Respect.’
So far, it seems to have worked. Which is to say, they haven’t been disrespectful to us in a couple of days. But no doubt, they will. And when they do, I’ll frame the contracts and put them in their rooms so I can just walk in and point to them whenever there’s a flare up.
Well see how it goes.