“No matter the problem, kindness is always the right response.” – L.R. Knost.
As a parent, one of my biggest fears is that my children are unkind to others, or that others are unkind to my children. The word “unkind” doesn’t sound very drastic, does it? It can be. Their interactions with other people have such a huge impact on the way their little personalities are shaping and they won’t all be positive. I regularly tell them that I’ll always be proud of them for two things: 1) trying their hardest; and 2) being kind. I expect this chapter will be my opportunity to expand on this for them and share some of my own experiences. Truthfully, I’m a little nervous about how I’ll feel about my own acts of kindness (or lack there of) by the end of it. Oh well, a little self reflection can’t hurt! **pause to send kind text messages to husband and mother**
For the benefit of any new readers (welcome!), this is the fourth chapter in a series of blog posts following my personal take on the keepsake journal ‘My Prudent Advice’. The headings below are taken from the section of the journal entitled “On Kindness” and the responses are mine, written to my daughters, Anya and Ellora.
One of my fondest memories of a kindness done for me as a child is: There was a tradition during my early childhood where some friends of my parents (your grandparents) would visit every Christmas Eve whilst visiting from wherever it was that they lived at the time. I want to say Belgium but it’s been a long time since I’ve thought about this so I stand to be corrected. It was always a very happy occasion and your Uncle Jack and I were allowed to stay up late so that we could join in with the festivities. We were even allowed to open an early Christmas present from said visitors (always bubble bath!). I remember feeling very privileged at the time and was so grateful to be included. It’s only now, looking back as an adult (and a parent), however, that I realise exactly how kind this was of our parents… our guests often didn’t leave until after midnight (something which I later discovered was quite an inconvenience), then your poor Nanny and Grandpa had two over-excited children to settle into bed and a mountain of Christmas presents to bring out of hiding* and arrange under the tree! Of course, your Uncle Jack would wake at 4am on Christmas morning without fail.
*I’m assuming that we have had a conversation about Santa by the time you are reading this. I hope.
And a kindness done for me as an adult: Kindness takes many forms and I’m lucky enough to have been on the receiving end of some very generous acts of the stuff over the years. I’m grateful to all our family and friends for this, and sometimes I’m grateful to people I don’t even know. Having a baby – particularly a first child – evokes such unexpected emotion in people and this translates into countless acts of kindness during the first few days and weeks after the birth. A woman from your daddy’s work, who I have still never met, hand-stitched a personalised teddy bear for you, Anya. Ellora, you received a pile of beautiful baby clothes from a group of your Grandma’s colleagues.
When I want to show you my love, I tend to: Right now, we have a little ‘thing’ where we make eye contact, smile and blink at each other slowly. Both of you learned to copy this behaviour as babies (Ellora, you’re just starting to do this now, at eleven months old), and it has become a very affectionate gesture between us – well, it has for me anyway! I hope we don’t lose this as you grow older.
I had an opportunity to be kind, and I seized it: This is where my mind goes blank and I fret about never having done anything kind for someone before. Surely there must be something… I’ve built my fair share of flat-pack furniture for friends moving house if that counts? I make monthly donations to the RSPB…?! One thing I’m proud of is giving our little rescue cat, Audrey, a loving home. She’d been abandoned by her previous owners after miscarrying her kittens and I will forever wonder how someone could do that to such a sweet, gentle little thing.
I had an opportunity to be kind, and I squandered it, which I now regret: Of course, these memories take longer to fade. There was a time I saw a flustered new mum at the baby clinic and in my knackered state I allowed myself to be distracted by something one of you two were doing instead of striking up a conversation. She seemed anxious about something and I know better than anyone that a supportive word from a stranger can be enough to change a person’s day. Tiredness is no excuse and I’m still sorry about that.
Emotions that will challenge your ability to be kind may include: Anger, jealousy, grief… these almost go without saying. But something I’ve only learned as an adult is that kindness can also be linked to confidence and self awareness. Please don’t misunderstand me here – it’s not that I believe that people with low confidence and/or self awareness are unkind, rather that they underestimate the power of their kindness to others (just as they might underestimate their power in general). An internal voice fretting about what good “little old me” could possibly do in a situation is hardly going to encourage action. I speak from experience here.
You will find that diving into yourself and finding your inner reserve of warmth will help you face these challenges. Some ways I’ve coped with these feelings include: The age-old classic of putting myself in someone else’s shoes (there’s a reason adults hammer this advice into kids during childhood – it’s simple and it works). And when all else fails, I remember my manners and consider how someone I admire would act. The great Fred Astaire once said that “the hardest job kids face today is learning good manners without seeing any”, but I like this think we can prove this particular theory wrong.
Thank you to readers who’ve taken the time to read this post. It’s very… kind… of you 😉 I’m off to put someone else’s feelings first or find an old person to help use the internet now. Stay tuned for the next chapter (which I believe is “On Education”) landing next week and please do let me know if you have any thoughts on today’s topic!