Thursday, 1 December 2011

When their right to freedom of speech ends- and disrespect begins

Shakeel (12) and Tharaa (10) have in recent months become increasingly argumentative- not just with each other (which is upsetting enough for me), but with their dad and me too. 
They challenge everything I say, which leads to lengthy arguments, which often does not end well.
Recently I told the mother of one of Tharaa's friends that we had bought a certain valuable item for Tharaa. Two days later the mom and daughter popped in at our house to borrow it. I was flabbergasted- the item was rare and valuable and not something one borrowed from other people. But I gave it to them and prayed for its safe return.

By last night the item had still not been returned and we were all feeling a bit concerned.
Shakeel: "But Mommy, you were the one who told them about it. Why did you have to do that?"

Me: "Because I did not expect them to ask for it. I would never borrow something like that from someone and I can't think of anyone else who would."
Shakeel: "But it was unnecessary for you to tell them. And why did you have to agree to give it to them. You could have said no."

Me: "That would have been difficult to do without causing offence and ruining the relationship."
Shakeel: "But still, you didn't have to cause this situation. It was completely unnecessary. If you didn't tell them about it, none of this would be happening right now".
And this interaction continued a while longer, with Shakeel in attack mode and me defending myself. Since I was already feeling annoyed at myself for having started this mess, I really did not need to have to defend myself to my twelve year old son.
And then I decided not to.
"That is enough!" I said, raising my voice slightly threateningly. "I don't want to hear anything more from you. I don't have to defend myself to you. You are a child- you have no right to attack me. You are being disrespectful".

"I'm just stating the obvious. I wasn't being disrespectful," he answered.

Oh. my. word.

I thought back to how I had been raised. I would have gotten to the second "but" in that conversation, after which my ears would have been zinging from the smack I'd receive. Aah, those were the days- before children's rights were enshrined in the Constitution and children could report their parents for abuse. Just my luck not to have had the protection of that piece of legislation when I was a child, but now having to endure its consequences as a parent.

As always, that conversation did not end well. I ended up asserting my authority as the parent and meting out punishment for his disrespect. I hate having to end a disagreement by exercising my parental authority- I would really have preferred it if he had realised that he was being disrespectful and done the right thing by himself.
As much as I complain (mostly jokingly) about the way in which the new dispensation ties parents' hands when it comes to disciplining children, I am completely aware of the need for children's protection from abuse. I am aware of (and don't treat lightly) the situations where children's vulnerability is exploited by adults.

In addition, as a parent, I do not want to get my kids to toe the line by instilling fear and by being too authoritative. I would prefer to parent within a framework of open communication and mutual respect. I do not want to teach my children to fear authority, as it could result in them being incapable of standing up for themselves.
My question is, at which point in last night's interaction did Shakeel's right to freedom of speech end and disrespect begin? 

While I do believe in mutual respect, I do come from a religious and cultural background where respect for parents is tantamount. And with me, as a mother of four, having suffered through a total of three years of pregnancy, thirty hours of labour (the pain of which is immeasurable), the excruciating pain of the early days of breastfeeding, countless sleepless nights, cleaning vomit, diarrhoea etc etc etc; hell yes- I think I deserve their respect.
The problem I face, is establishing that balance between their rights and encouraging them to assert those rights, while ensuring that they remain mindful of their need to respect us.

There is much to be said for the way in which we were raised, and I'm appreciating this fact even more as I observe the crude and often vile and disrespectful way in which children and teens conduct themselves (especially toward older people).
Yet one also has to acknowledge the merits of all the measures being undertaken by Government to ensure that children's rights are not violated. I know that if I had grown up surrounded by such sensitivity to my right to dignity, I would have much fewer emotional scars than I do today.
As far as the situation with my kids is concerned, this remains an ongoing battle, which will no doubt be the cause of much grief during the December holidays when we spend all day together.
I suppose that the best I can do is to constantly remind them of the values with which we are trying to raise them, while at the same time, enable them to derive the full benefit of the rights and advantages which life in modern day South Africa allows them. Hopefully by providing them with the best of both worlds, they will grow up to be confident, self-assured individuals who are not afraid to speak their minds; but live their lives with integrity and respect for themselves and others.


Margot said...

I'm curious - did you receive the item back?

themotherblogger said...

Yes, but only very recently- and only for her to borrow another item of value.

Since I don't intend to stand up to her ever, I shall either have to resign myself to the fact that what's mine is hers- or I must flee the neighbourhood one night after dark (i prefer the latter).