Athletic greatness, handsome good looks, brainy grades—parents freely brag about these attributes and achievements of our kids.
I hear about how great so-and-so is at this particular sport, or how smart she is, or, even with tiny toddlers, how many words they already speak, or how much they’re already moving around.
I wish we valued kindness this way.
I see articles shared on Facebook about how to raise creative children, how to raise independent thinkers, or how to encourage genius. Over and over again, we confront or praise parenting styles, sleeping styles, and we debate food choices, and where to send our kids to school.
I wish we were as concerned with raising children who don’t bully, and who value simply being nice with being as fundamentally important as qualifying for the gifted program.
I’m not sure how my girls will do in school. Right now, they are only a preschooler and a toddler. I don’t know if they’ll excel in sports, or if they’ll need special help in math, or if they’ll develop ADHD like their mama.
I don’t know if my decision to not let them cry it out will end up being positive for their future relationships, or if the gymnastics lessons I put my oldest in will be something she still finds worthy of her time at 13.
I do want my daughters to enjoy school, and to find success in life, but I want them to know that my view of success might not be what is expected.
I want my girls to go to school and to be kind to others. I don’t want my children to tease other little girls over their weight, or their hair, or their clothes. I don’t care if I’m brought a report card filled with “A’s” if my children are cruel or bullies.
If we want to create a future world for our children that’s not dismissive of racism, sexism, or that’s so shallow in how we perceive and judge other human beings, then we need to be placing more effort into contemplating how and why we are praising our children—we need to examine our definitions of “success,” and failure, too.
Success to me is raising kids with enough self-confidence to not need to pick on other kids. I’ll be successful not only if I raise children who eat vegetables and who sleep well, and who can kick a goal on the soccer field, but I’ll have “successfully” parented if my kids know the value of offering genuine compliments, and if they show kindness and grace towards both themselves and other human beings.
I know this is idealistic to the point of being almost ridiculous. This idea that we could have elementary schools where kids aren’t afraid to go and be made fun of, where playgrounds aren’t breeding grounds for eating disorders, and where children are free to be their naturally wonderful, diverse selves is, arguably, not how humanity works.
Still, I’m trying to find the excitement in going on Facebook to see one more post arguing that co-sleeping is harmful or that “free-range parenting” is ideal, and I can’t.
Breastfeeding, co-sleeping, debating how stay-at-home mothers and working-outside-the-home mothers are different and the same, helicopter parenting—these topics are important, but I’m finding myself wondering why we aren’t talking about how our kids are treating their peers? Do we value competitiveness, winning, and intelligence on arbitrary tests as so crucial, that we forget that people aren’t this one-dimensional?
Confidence, ingenuity, and interpersonal skills can often get us far in life, and these talents aren’t tested as easily at a desk with a freshly sharpened pencil.
Yet I’ll continue to play this game of child rearing.
I will put my girls into sports, and help them at school, and teach them how to count—this is, after all, a part of what makes a person able to navigate life well.
I will also teach them “please” and “thank you.” I’ll teach them to have empathy when someone else gets hurt, and how to ask, “Are you okay?”
I’ll attempt with all my heart to show them that listening is more than waiting to speak, and that loving someone isn’t always easy, and that all of us have flaws and that all of us are special and wonderful, and needing to be shown care.
I’m trying to teach my kids kindness because I don’t know what lies ahead for them in their lives—not possessing any accurate crystal balls—but I do know this: that the future does lie in their hands, in the hands of their peers, and that I want so much for them to more readily reach out and hold onto one another.