Helen, I have a 16 year old who has absolutely no respect for me or his mother or brothers. I could list so many obnoxious things that he does, but there is one issue which really irritates me and spoils the mood for everyone. We sit down every evening to dinner as a family. Derek knows that we place a lot of effort into this event and try to make it an enjoyable time for everyone. It’s a chance to chat and exchange the news of the day and laugh at some of the days problems. Derek persistently shows up late, grabs food from the table and eats it on his way out. We’ve tried explaining, inviting, yelling and nothing works. Respect is very important to me. I value your opinion. Any thoughts on this?
Laughing at the days problems as you say in your letter, is a wonderful place to start. So often in hoping to gain respect, we try too hard and take it all much too seriously. When we do this, we set ourselves up to be taken down a peg.
Start by making the decision with your wife to never again mention family mealtimes and their importance. Continue to make these times as relaxed as you can for whoever participates. Don’t try too hard to stage them. Enjoy the food and the company of whoever is at the table and let the conversation flow naturally.
For each meal, when Derek does his usual thing of taking his food to go, make no comments except to say cheerfully ‘Bye’ or ‘See you later’ and continue your conversation with everyone else and if he should decide one day to join you at the table, include him in the conversation without comment.
As long as there is satisfaction for Derek in taking his food and leaving, he will continue to do what he is doing. You on the other hand, can make sitting at the table more appealing than grabbing and going.
Respect can’t be mandated. We attract respect by not allowing ourselves to put importance on things we can’t control and by remaining even tempered when someone behaves in a way intended to annoy or disrespect us. The meal time is important to you. You can help it be important and appealing to your children but you can’t force them to want to be there unless there is something in it for them. Respect goes both ways.
Helen Jones, 2010