Is It Love, or Respect?

I received an email from a teenager who tells me that his parents treat him more harshly than they treat his older brother. They are not abusive, but they hold him to a stricter standard. His brother gets Cs and they don’t say anything. But when he gets an occasional B (out of otherwise straight As), they jump on him.

The writer resents his parents for holding him to a higher standard. He calls it “discrimination.” But then he goes on to wonder if it could actually be some sort of a compliment, because the parents obviously feel that he’s capable of more. He asks me what I think.

I think that your suspicion is correct. Your parents are paying you a compliment, whether they intend to or not. The issue here is ‘being liked’ versus respect. Children want to be liked and loved, especially by their parents. You feel disliked by your parents, and you may or may not be right. Not all parents like their children equally.

What I do know for sure is that your parents respect you, and, from what you say, with good reason. They hold the bar higher for you because they know you’re capable of more. People don’t spend that sort of time and energy on people they don’t like or love. It seems to me that you’re not only loved, but respected as well. Remember, all I have to go on is what you wrote in your email.

Much depends on what your parents’ personalities and values are. Are they high-achievers themselves, or at least people who respect that quality in others? If so, then I’m even more sure that they love you, their capable son, very much. They’re rooting for you and cheering you on by making sure you become all that you can be.

On the other hand, if they’re the type of people who ‘worship the average,” as we are encouraged to do nowadays, then perhaps they actually resent you; punishing and restricting you accordingly. If this is in fact the case, then they’re punishing you for your success and your capability. That’s an awful thing, but in my experience, all too common. And if that is true, then your parents don’t matter much. They may be holding you to high standards, but they don’t mean to do so; they’re simply looking for opportunities to punish you. Again, your parents’ personalities and values are the key here, and I can’t accurately judge their values just from your note.

Regardless of their intentions, you should celebrate the fact that you’re smart and capable. If your parents punish you because they resent your capability — well, how nice to be so gifted that your own parents resent you (even if it doesn’t speak much for them). And if your parents are, as you suspect, holding you to a higher standard because they respect you, well, you are still complimented.

A lot of people confuse ‘like’ and ‘respect.’ They’re so wrapped up in whether someone likes them that they forget to ask, “Does this person respect me?” Parents often are this way with their kids. “Am I being a good parent? Am I being too mean? Am I his (or her) friend?” They get bogged down in all that and forget to ask, “Does my child respect me?” Of course, this also happens in adult scenarios like employment, friendship and even marriage.

People think that love can exist apart from admiration and respect. Take it from me: Just the opposite is true. Love for someone implies a positive appraisal of something about them that you value as good.

Love isn’t just respect, but it’s certainly a crucial component. It’s like a cake where the recipe calls for butter, flour and eggs. If you leave the eggs out, is it still the same cake? No. But are the eggs the only ingredient that matter? No — but they’re essential nonetheless.

It’s good to have the respect of your friends AND your enemies. Even people who don’t love you can still respect you. And that will always be a compliment.