Sometimes I question if what I'm doing is right. I watch my children maneuver through our world, and I see how hard it is for them because they follow the standards that our family has set for them: kindness, care, and compassion. This is what my husband and I have taught them, but at what cost?
From the first time I held them, I have been whispering in their ears, "You are here because our world demands your presence in it." As they grew, my whispers turned into words spoken aloud, "Be kind in this world." But now, with them as teens, I see how this ethic for the kind of humans that I want my children to be, sets them apart from the way of their peers.
I wonder, have I made my children too compassionate? Are they paying the price for my conviction?
Since they were old enough to understand words, the three that we've had them commit to memory are, "Kindness, kindness, kindness." We would repeat them until they came automatically in their conversations.
One day, when my son was 3 years old we had gone to the park. He had brought his favorite truck along and set it down in the sand. There was another little boy there who suddenly decided that he wanted the yellow truck for his own and he picked it up, running away with it. I watched my small boy pull himself up on his sandy legs and run after him, calling out, "Kineness! kineness! kineness!" My heart sank to see my son expecting him to know exactly what those words meant.
Am I doing the right thing, to teach my three boys to be kind, no matter what?
Their conscience keeps them out of step. The small bud I planted in their head so many years ago goes against the grain of what they see around them. They are out of sorts, they want to belong but the words they've heard their entire lives stand in the way. When they repeat what their friends are telling them, I say otherwise. They look at me, they falter, they're unsure -- Who is right? Who is wrong? Who do they believe?
Am I making them too soft?
My heart clenches as I hear them repeat what they've heard in school. Am I making them too different from the world that is theirs? I know the self control it takes on their part to not lash out and tell me how I hold them back, how the other kids in school don't care about others as much as I tell them they have to. They tell me what is said and done at school, and "That's just the way it is today."
Raising children to extend kindness and compassion shouldn't be hard. That's what I thought. As challenging as our children think this is on them, it's equally so on us. When they're the ones who are the recipients of unkindness, ridicule, ostracizing, because they won't go with the flow of the culture, it's not just them that feels the stab of not fitting in. When they are teased, and I'm the one to receive their frustrated tangle of emotions, I hear, "How would you like it!" I tell them I am sorry, but only sorry that this has happened to them. I am not sorry for the things we've taught them, to be kind.
I can't change the way the world is spinning for our children. They're placed in situations far above any we had to encounter. Their lives are more public than we could have imagined, and the chance for ridicule is at lightning speed. Pictures, news, words, spread like wildfire. Their young lives are documented and posted, too many times without their knowledge.
Is kindness outdated in the digital age?
I can only tell my three boys that I understand, and that I wish it were different. That I wish there were no people to wound others with words and posted photos along with gossip, injustice, exclusion, or crimes done against each other and then put online to shame.
I need to hold fast to what we decided as parents 18 years ago, "In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you." I thought it would be easy, but none of this is. My children may think that I'm deaf to their feelings and that I'm more focused on having them do as I say than understanding their lives, but they are my beautiful children. They matter to me more than anything. I have to keep on believing that one day, they'll see, that kindness matters in this world. More than fitting in.
Our family will meet life head on. We will weather the weight of disappointment, and bear the cost of not fitting in. We will never forget to think how others feel. We will stand together, and we will not doubt what we can do. We can change the world by being the change against the tide of indifference. We are here in this world, to embody concern, support, and care.
Because the world we live in demands our presence in it.