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Parenting is hard work. We want so much for our children. Sometimes, it seems an impossible task to develop human beings without screwing them up. I worry about this ALL THE TIME.

We sometimes feel measured by our parenting skills.  Certainly, the way our children interact in the world is a reflection of us, right?  Have you ever been out in public–a restaurant, park, school–and it’s YOUR kid who is whining, crying, or making a scene?  You feel the weight of all those eyes on you, all judgy and condemning.  You want to hold up a big ole F on your forehead to own the failure status you obviously deserve.

What I desire, more than anything, is to raise kids who show appreciation for the gifts given them. I want them to view the earth and notice its bounty. I want them to savor in the sunsets, marvel at mountains, and see beauty in the rows of waving corn.  I want them to notice the overlooked, care about the impoverished, and contribute to their community.

My dream is that I will raise young men who are not afraid to show both kindness and strength.  I really really want them to do nice things for others without my prompting.  I keep hoping that it’s innate.  However, we do not always control these little individuals.  I know this.  My youngest is…well, different than me.  He’s very blunt and sometimes (cringingly) insensitive.  My husband and I can’t figure out where it comes from as we fancy ourselves rather sensitive beings.  Yet, he’s often caught rolling his eyes while others are sharing their interests and saying things like “ugh”.  Is he just pre-programmed this way?  Can I rewire those circuits of indifference?

Friends, I’m working on it.  I’m really, really working on it.  I feel like a good parent should be able to teach character, manners and empathy.  I’ve even read that kindness must be taught and that children learn best when they see gracious acts modeled.  In an article written in the Washington Post (click here for the full article), they found that 80% of the kids surveyed felt their parents cared more about their academic achievements than caring for others.  WHAT????   No, this is not the message I want my boys to learn.

It’s in that vein that I’ve made it my purpose to inundate my kiddos with acts of service.  Surely they see enough selfishness all around them.  They come home from school and tell me all about the “things” others have–but very rarely do I hear stories about what kids are doing for others.   I want to see their eyes light up when they see others doing something nice for someone else.  I want to give high fives for generosity, warmheartedness, and concern.  I want to hear less about Johnny the Jock scoring 10 goals and more about Katy the Kind who played with a lonely kid at recess.  Wouldn’t it be lovely if we all shared more about how we were impacting our community in a positive way?

So, if you want to join the Kindness Army, here are a few ways you might start:

1.  Encourage kids to read books with stories showcasing kids’ empathy.  One of my favorites is “Have You Filled a Bucket Today.”  It’s a wonderful book that reminds kids that they can be “bucket-fillers” or “bucket-dippers”.  We even use that lingo in our house and I ask the boys whether their actions make them fillers or dippers.  I’ve been delighted to see it used in some schools as well.

2. Model acts of service.  Volunteer to help.  Maybe you volunteer in your school library.  Perhaps you could give of your time to a non-profit organization?  It could be as simple as watering your neighbor’s plants while they are out of town.  Give your children opportunities to see you helping others and talk about it.  Show them that community is important.

Serving snacks at the Ronald McDonald House

3.  Commit random acts of kindness.  Pay for the coffee of the person behind you.  Leave a larger tip for an exceptional server at a restaurant.  Write an encouraging note for a stranger to find.  Buy and leave stamps at the post office for a stranger to use.  Bake cookies and take them to your local fire or police department.  The ideas are endless.   Let your children see that you don’t have to know the people you are helping–that we are all part of a bigger world and we are all connected.

Need some help?  Join the Hey Stranger project and leave little cards of encouragement around town.  These cards are a wonderful way to let others know they matter.  And isn’t it really about us all wanting to matter?

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Always keep your eyes open to opportunities.  I’ve found fabulous links on Facebook of people coordinating efforts for others.  For example, we participated in the request of a little boy, Danny Nickerson, who wished for nothing but cards for his birthday.  The boy is fighting cancer and I knew writing letters would be a wonderful occasion for my boys to help brighten a total stranger’s day.

Another site I found on Facebook is called The Lonely Bouquet.  You basically donate a bouquet, leave it somewhere for someone to find, and put an “adopt me” tag on.  Again, there are so many ways to brighten someone’s day if you just look around and seek these moments.

Wait, do you need another idea?  Check out the Love is Louder than Cancer organization.  Seriously, take a minute to view the link and be inspired by the brave mom and daughter who are fighting cancer together.  This amazing family started a nonprofit organization to help raise funds for other families battling cancer.  They sometimes request others to commit random acts of kindness on their chemo days.

With time and effort, I hope that my boys will continue to grow in their compassion and give of their hearts.  I believe helping others is one of the best confidence building activities kids can learn.  I know that I feel most beautiful when I am helping someone else and shining God’s light.  I want my kids to feel that too and know they are amazingly flawed and wonderful.

Go out and sparkle, Kindness Army, sparkle!

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