Would You Rather Be Liked — or Respected?

A teenager emails that his parents treat him more harshly than they treat his older brother. They are not abusive, but they consistently 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 his 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, and that maybe his parents feel he’s capable of more. He asks me what I think.

Young Reader, I think that your suspicion is correct. Whether they intend to or not, your parents are paying you a compliment. The issue here is “being liked” versus being respected. 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 set the bar higher because they know you’re capable of more. People don’t spend that sort of time and energy on people they don’t like. 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’ values are. Are they high-achievers themselves, or at least people who respect that quality in others? If so, then I’m even more convinced that they love 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 mediocre” as we are (sadly) 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, and 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, their personalities and values are the key here, and I can’t accurately judge that 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, though it doesn’t say much for them. And if your parents are, as you suspect, holding you to a higher standard because they respect you, 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. In fact, 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.