I grew up in a small rural town in the 1970s, where schools closed for the first day of hunting season and families met for ice cream after Sunday church. It was still an era completely ruled by adults, when children couldn’t choose their own clothes, make a request for dinner, or have any opinions in general.
I realize that not every household operated this way, but I’ll tell you, virtually every family I knew within 100 miles certainly did.
It was a holdover from medieval homilies, 15th century men (first recorded in 1450 by Augustinian clergyman John Mirk) declaring that young girls and celibate men should “be seen but not heard.” The phrase assumes all-knowing, all-powerful adults, maintaining their control over the naive and ignorant youth.
Closely connected: a very literal application of the commandment “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.”
The root of the word literally means heavy, or weighty. When we honor someone, we give weight to their existence and their role in our world. That doesn’t however, mean that our elders – even our parents – get a blanket pass. Basic rules of decency and respect have to apply to everyone.
Here’s a good explanation by Rev. Renee Pittelli: “one thing honoring does NOT mean is that you have no choice but to tolerate their abuse. Honoring does not mean that you never confront, or set limits on someone’s behavior. Honoring does not mean you have to give up all hope of ever being treated nicely, and sacrifice your own health and well-being.”
I also stumbled across this web page the other day, and I really appreciated this line: “One thing forgiveness and honor are not, though, is a permanent submission to parental authority. The Bible commands honor but not remaining a prisoner in a dysfunctional family.” (gotquestions.org)
I have a point here. We have generations of children who were raised to shut up. To smile and nod, to lower their eyes, to go with the flow. That’s generations of children, eventually adults, who don’t speak up for themselves. They don’t protect themselves. They don’t argue, they don’t fight for what’s right, because they were trained from an early age that arguing is disrespectful. And we must honor our elders at any cost.
Children who are abused daily, but they can’t speak against their adult abuser. Children who have a gut instinct that a situation is uncomfortable or dangerous, but they stay quiet.
My daughter once fell off a horse. I wasn’t comfortable at this barn, and I didn’t know the trainer or the horse. But I went along because the older adults were so excited about it. When she fell, I KNEW she was scared, and I KNEW she was hurt, but when the much older trainer (who happened to be a friend of my in-law’s) said, “she’s fine, hop back on!” I stayed quiet. Don’t argue! Don’t interrupt! I was too chicken in front of these adults (even though I AM AN ADULT, DAMMIT) to speak up. Even in defense of my own kid (and yes, she had a hairline fracture). Because they are all ardent defenders of the commandments, and believe strongly that children, even adult children, should never disagree with them, and I didn’t want to upset anyone.
Let me be clear: I’m not abdicating responsibility. Protecting her was my job, and no one else’s. I’ll never forgive myself for that day.
I have family members who were vocally annoyed when a child came to my house and asked for a snack. They actually thought that a child EXPRESSING A NEED FOR FOOD after playing all morning was disrespectful.
Another family member rolled his eyes at me because I allowed my toddler to choose between two coats before leaving the house.
An older friend couldn’t believe that I allowed my toddler to carry a shopping bag when she asked to. As if I should say no, just because carrying the bag was something she wanted.
I’m done with this. Arbitrary “no” is ridiculous. Children are human. They may not be in control, but they deserve respect. They may not make the final decisions, but they should be able to express concerns. They need to learn to make choices and set priorities. We need to be teaching them that their opinions matter, and that they deserve to have their needs met. These are life skills that they need to learn like any others.
Having an opinion is not rude.
Disagreement is not disrespectful.
I’m especially proud of the young survivors at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. They’re not afraid to use their voices. They’re not afraid to challenge those in authority when they feel scared or threatened. (watch Emma Gonzalez’s speech)
Good on you, kids. If you’re the next generation, I have hope.
And please, everyone, if you need something, if you’re uncomfortable or scared, BE SEEN AND BE HEARD.