A Reminder to Practice Kindness

The other night we were out running errands and we got a little peckish. We decided to stop for dinner at a new pizza place. It was pretty casual, seat yourself, and honestly, we’ve taken our kids to much less casual places and not had a problem. We’ve been taking the kids out with us since they were tiny babies so they know how to behave. Even now that they’re out of high chairs, they know not to get up and run around and yell and scream. Occasionally we bring coloring books or things to keep the kids occupied, but most of the time they’re just happy to chat. As we sat down, a couple at the table next to us rolled their eyes, mouthed “Three kids?!?!?” to each other, and walked away to another table.

Small Cruelty Can Have a Big Impact

So I spent what was supposed to be a nice meal completely miserable. I committed the unforgivable sin of taking three kids out in public instead of just locking ourselves away until they’re 18. I snapped at the kids more than usual because I was obsessing over any infringement on perfect behavior, which was completely unfair to them. They weren’t on their best behavior, but they were sitting reasonably quietly and not running around or screaming. They didn’t ruin anyone’s meal or hurt anyone.

I get that kids aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s fine. I don’t think everyone should have kids. Some people aren’t meant to be parents and that’s fine. Some people don’t want to be parents, and that’s fine too. People don’t have to take their kids out either, if they don’t want to. You know best what works for you and your family. That’s the thing. These people don’t know us, and they don’t know our kids. All they know is that we’re a slightly bigger than average family and felt that that gave them permission to judge us cruelly and openly.

Kindness Matters, and It Has to Go Two Ways

Mom-shaming is hurtful, and there’s no reason for it. We’ve become a society full of people super eager to judge parents at every turn. Let’s be real: we’re all just doing our best to raise good kids in a tough world. We should all cut each other some slack and try every day to be a little kinder than the day before, or at least a little less judgmental.

We all judge other people. None of us can help doing so. But we can control what we say to people, with our words or our looks. We can extend understanding to people who may be having a tough day. A kind look, a held door, a smile, these gestures are small and easy, but they can help make people feel better as surely as a snide remark or a pair of rolled eyes can make them feel worse.

The Stories We Tell

This article from Eater is a really illuminating look at the ways that food culture tends to erase the credit and long history of the foods we eat and prize. We don’t want to summarize it too much, because we’d rather you go and read it. But it’s important to know that the shameful treatment of minorities in this country continues in ways both big and small, and we need to be mindful of how the stories we tell can erase their true authors.

This is a really important thing to keep in mind in parenting, both in how we talk to our kids about the world, and in how we talk to our kids about themselves and their accomplishments. Nobody gets by purely on their own initiative, and we can gain a deeper, richer understanding of the world by having a real understanding of the shoulders we had to stand on to get where we are.

Proper attribution doesn’t diminish what good we’ve put into the world. It honors others for helping make us able to do that good work. We needn’t fashion ourselves and our kids as solitary geniuses for our lives and our work to have value. Understanding our place in our society is as important as anything to raising compassionate, caring, kind children.

A Favorite Book

The news can be very scary even for us as adults, and we know that our kids hear some scary things on the radio or overhear us talking. We want to make sure that they understand what they hear and aren’t scared but can learn from what’s happening. We want to protect them, but we don’t want to shelter them.

What happened in Charlottesville over the weekend was terrible, and quite honestly terrifying for a number of reasons. The continuing existence and ascendance of white supremacy is a stain on our country, and one we can only attempt to wash away with love and acceptance and inclusion. It’s important for us to instill in our kids a sense of kindness and justice. As parents we worry about the world they’re growing up in, and we can’t help make it better by hiding it from them and them from it.

It can be hard to explain these concepts to adults, let alone to sweet little children who have never known anything but love. We’ve been reading a book recently to the kids Let’s Talk About Race by Julius Lester and Karen Barbour. We like that it talks about race in a way our children can understand. It addresses not only the meanness of racism, but how little it makes sense. Even Watson hears us explaining that some people think they’re better than other people because of the color of their skin and just shakes his head.

There’s only so much we can do, and someday our kids are going to go out in the world and make their own choices. Teaching them the value of other people of every race, religion, gender, and nationality is important to us because we hope to see them carry kindness, love, compassion, and justice with them out into the world.

Race

Our Parenting Philosophy

Before we even get going, I want to say this: our parenting philosophy is ours, and we don’t want to claim, explicitly or otherwise, that we’re doing it right and others are doing it wrong, or that doing things differently from how we do them is somehow less right. In fact, that’s a pretty good summation of one of the main points we try to keep in mind:

  • We’re all doing the best we know how to do.

It’s easier than it should be to get down on ourselves about snapping at the kids when they’re being tough and we’re having a rough day, but that happens to everybody, and dwelling on it doesn’t help anybody. Parenting is tough, and while we shouldn’t let that control our actions, we shouldn’t forget it either.

  • Kids changed our life, but we need to teach them how to be part of our lives, not just be subsumed into theirs.

Between visits to children’s museums, birthday parties, diaper changing, story times, etc., parenting can make it can seem like our lives barely exist anymore. But we do have lives, and wants, and desires, and it’s not wrong to want to exercise those. It’s not easy to do, but it’s important to assert our right to our own time and our own preferences. Too often we hear parents complaining about TV shows their kids like, but that they’re forced to endure. It’s struck us that we can make those decisions, and let the kids join us in what we like, as much as we let them develop their own tastes and try to share their enjoyment. Letting parenting get in the way of doing anything we enjoy seems like a recipe for resentment down the road.

  • It’s important to be kind.

Underlying everything, we try to stress at every turn that it’s important to be kind. Think about how other people feel, how you’d feel if they’d done to you what you did to them, etc. We live in a world where it’s not always easy to have empathy, but that doesn’t make it any less important.

  • Take our own advice.

Our kids are just doing the best they know how to do, and still trying to figure everything out. They also need to be allowed space to live their own lives, and to have us be open to being invited into those lives and interests. As parents we need to be kind and empathetic to them, and understand how they might be feeling, and meet them where they are, rather than where we’d like them to be.