One lesson from my mother that I will take to my grave is to “kill ’em with kindness”. I don’t even remember exactly when she passed it on, but I do know there were times throughout my childhood where I had some friendship issues that I struggled with. I came to my mom to find out how to fix myself or what to do if I wasn’t the one who needed fixing. She shared that sometimes people don’t like you. Sometimes, they’re right and you need to look inside to make sure you are treating them well. Sometimes, you are doing everything right and they don’t like you anyway. My mom’s answer to that: just be nice. Make no mistake, she didn’t teach me to be walked over. She didn’t teach me to allow myself to be treated poorly. Instead what she taught, with those four words and more importantly through her own actions, was that as long as you stand tall in your own convictions and treat others well, you can move comfortably through the world without worry about who does and doesn’t like you. In short-other people’s opinions of you are not always a reflection of who you are. I wish I could say I live that every day. I don’t. I still wish everyone liked me and I have a hard time when people don’t. But when I am struggling, I hear her words and first check my own behavior and then barring I haven’t screwed up, I can usually move on without too much consternation.
Now I am the mother and I think my most important job is raising humans with strong moral codes and impeccable, unshakable character. I want them to understand that even though we all have room for improvement, they shouldn’t let other people determine who they grow up to be. I want to pass on self-esteem without self-absorption. I want my kids to know they are important-that their thoughts count. But I want them to be aware that their thoughts and practices are just a part of a very large world. My question is-how? Character is a tricky balancing act that is sometimes best achieved through falling on our faces and getting back up. To shape who we are, we need to mess up and then learn through correcting our mistakes. How much do I feed them? How much do I let them find themselves? I want them to grow but how much do I need to guide the growth? And will it matter in the end or will they just go their own way because of or in spite of my efforts?
My mother taught me through her words and deeds. She wasn’t perfect, but the good stuff stuck. I try every day (often unsuccessfully) to reflect in my actions a type of person I hope my children aspire to be-fair, honest, kind, confident. I just hope I get it right often enough and that when I don’t, they are listening because then my words about what is right are the only thing I have the strength to share.
P.S. Looking for more parenting guidance and tips for self-care? Check out From Chaos to Calm a guided training to help you feel better in this tough season.