Raising kind kids has to start with modeling kindness-- toward ourselves, toward our children, and toward others outside our family. I was blessed to be raised in a home where being kind to strangers was highly valued and modeled. My dad still leaves $20 bills tucked under homeless people sleeping in airports. My mother would offer the mailman a drink of water on a hot day, and would routinely help a stranger on the street who looked distressed. She broke up a fight outside of a middle school dance. She saved the life of a man she didn’t know who was choking at a wedding. My parents are two of the kindest, bravest, most compassionate people I know, so I had a good start in this area.
Being kind to those closest to me, and to myself, are the areas where I struggle the most these days.
As a mother, I want to model kindness for my kids, and often I do. What intrigues me is the moments when I’m not able to be kind. What is happening inside of me in those moments? For example, the other night, a bowl of rice spilled off the dinner table. After a long day at work (or sometimes an even longer day at home), cooking dinner can be a task that overwhelms me. I had asked my 5-year-old son to stop fooling around multiple times. I turned around to the sound of a bowl slamming down on the floor. The rice that my daughter hadn’t been eating was spread across the kitchen floor.
All parents know rice is the absolute most difficult food to clean up! I let it rip on my son, who was standing near my daughter’s seat when the bowl fell. I forget my exact words, but at one point I was really laying on the guilt (he didn’t look upset enough to me in my state of mind at that moment), and I told him that there wouldn’t be any rice left for Daddy when he got home. After quietly contemplating this statement, he came over to me with his bowl of rice, and said he wanted to save it for his daddy. My son’s gesture of kindness snapped me out of my tirade. At that point I was down on the floor with a vacuum, ready to vacuum up the rice. I asked him if he wanted to do it instead, and he took the vacuum from me and cleaned it up himself. My emotions simmered down, I cooked a little more rice, and the storm blew over.
I straddle the line between being real with my kids about how I’m feeling (I’m angry the rice spilled, I had asked you to stop fooling around and you didn’t, and now I can’t sit down and eat with you guys, instead I have to clean up rice and cook more), and not going overboard into laying on the guilt too hard, or worse, shaming them. I try to focus more on what I’m feeling and communicate it to them (with “I” statements), because hey, parenting is really frustrating sometimes! I allow myself to get upset and express this to my kids, but sometimes I don’t know when to stop. My son’s gesture of kindness snapped me out of my downward spiral, and allowed me the awareness to offer him an opportunity to fix the mistake, and clean the rice up himself, which could then allow him to feel better about the incident. Prior to that point, my son was showing very little emotion, and I couldn’t tell what he was feeling, which caused me to lay on the guilt even more.
I also spoke to my son a little while after the incident and told him that it was really kind of him to think to save his rice for daddy, and I was proud of him for that. So, what could have continued as a really bad incident actually turned around into an opportunity for my son to be kind to his dad, for me to be kind to him, and for me to be kind and forgiving toward myself.
I could have stayed stuck in the tirade, in the “bad place” I was in emotionally, which was probably provoked by feelings of “less than” over what I perceive to be my inadequate cooking skills, and just the stress of not being able to “do it all” seamlessly. But I didn’t get stuck. I heard my son’s kind gesture. I thought to offer him the vacuum. I spoke to him quietly after the event. I’m giving myself credit for having the presence to turn the incident around before I did too much damage to my son’s self-esteem.
It’s easy to be kind when everyone’s in a good mood, and the day is going well. It’s not so easy to be kind in the difficult moments, especially with those closest to us. But when unkindness happens, we always have a chance to make things right, if we can break out of the downward spiral, and first forgive ourselves.