The following is a guest post from my friend, my sister from another life. The fact that she can concentrate long enough to write this while raising like 457 kids – makes her a hero. She blogs (not enough) at http://kittyhague.blogspot.com/.
Last night, as I was reveling in the comfort of finally sinking into my soft cozy bed (seriously… if you don’t have a bed that is absolutely heavenly you owe it to yourself to make it that way. Even if you have to eat Ramen for a month. Make your bed the most awesome place…ever.) Anyway, I was laying there with nothing to think about except how good my new fabric softener smelled when my husband (who was obviously less affected by the bliss which was our bed) says to me, “If you could teach the kids one thing that they really grasped and held onto… what would it be?”
Why must he be philosophical at bedtime? Always. I mean, Always.?
I considered faking sleep… but I know him. It wouldn’t have mattered. He wasn’t going to let it go. I wiped the drool that was already beginning to pool on the pillow side of my mouth (yes, I’m a habitual sleep-drooler) and began the process of clearing the cobwebs. My first thought was “I would like to teach them that when someone has spent all day mothering seven children and a man-child and she has finally climbed into her happy place and engulfed herself in Mountain Sunshine scented bliss; if you love her…even a little bit… you should never, ever, wake her to ask her to participate in a conversation for any purpose other than the prevention of the death of an immediate family member. If the house is on fire… try to put it out yourself, call the fire department, evacuate all the children to the pre-determined meet up spot, and THEN come ask her if she would rather get out of bed… or wait a little bit to see if it burns out on its own.”
That was clearly the cobwebs speaking though. So I bit my tongue and gave myself another moment.
What would I want my children to really take to heart of I could teach them one thing.
“Sincerity”, was my answer. The importance of being sincere. Always.
See, children are born with a perfect understanding of sincerity. It is natural to them. It is why we all roll our eyes and joke that “Kids say the darndest things…”. Kids don’t say they “darnedest” things. Kids are honest, and kids are sincere, and that strikes us as funny. Unfiltered sincerity makes us a little uncomfortable… so we laugh about it and chalk it up to kids being kids. Somewhere along the way, as kids grow up, we teach them that sincerity is not a good thing. Kids will say something honest and we correct them.
“I don’t want to play with Johnny. He breaks my toys because he plays too rough with them, and he smells bad.”
How many parents first reaction is to say, “Now now… don’t be mean. Johnny can’t help that he smells bad. It isn’t nice to say that. He doesn’t mean to break your toys… you need to be nice and share with him.”
Here’s what the response should have been. “You know, you’re right. Johnny does stink. Maybe his mom didn’t teach him to wipe his bum properly. Maybe he doesn’t brush his teeth as often as he should. I will talk to Johnny’s mom about it and see if maybe she can help Johnny out.”
No… I’m being serious. Honestly, it would probably be best for Johnny and his mom to know that people are talking about his smell… wouldn’t it? Wouldn’t they then be able to take measures to correct it so that Johnny isn’t the smelly kid….forever? In theory, most of us believe that. But it is really hard to be the one to tell Mrs Smelly Kid that there is a problem. Its easier to just fake it.
And what about the broken toys? Is it okay to force our kids to allow other people to mistreat their belongings? Society, with a few awesome exceptions, tells us that we must teach our children to share. But sharing when it is forced, isn’t sharing at all. What we are telling our kids, when we force them to share with someone they have deemed unfit to use their belongings, is that their happiness is less important than the happiness of others.
Some argue that is a noble idea; teaching that the happiness of others should always come before your own happiness. They teach that selflessness is the most favorable of all attributes in a perfect society. I disagree…but that is another rant, entirely.
If a child has a valid reason for not wanting to share, why would we force them to share?
Kids who are told over, and over and over again that it isn’t “nice” to be honest or that their needs come after everyone else’s needs are being set up for failure in what can be a harsh world.
If I could teach my kids one thing that they would really hold on to and apply every single day, it would be that you should always say what you believe. Even if it seems mean. Even if it isn’t popular. Even if it makes you, or others uncomfortable. We say, “honestly is the best policy” and yet most of us don’t actually believe it. Most of us believe “to pacify is the best policy”… let’s make everything smooth and easy and comfortable. There, that’s nice isn’t it?
But that isn’t what life is about. Life isn’t about making everyone like us, all the time. Life is much bigger, and much more important than the opinions of others. Life is about making hard choices, and making real progress. It is about trials and failures and successes and heart breaks. How can we ever hope to know ourselves, to make any change for good in this world, or to affect anything of importance if we fear the consequences of sincerity?
I want my children to be happy. I want them to have friends…real friends. Friends who value them as forces of nature; strong and kind and independent and honest… not friends who like them because they are doormats. I want them to know, and understand, and apply every single day, the idea that if everyone likes you… there is a good chance that you have never stood for anything.
And as I felt my “Philosopher husband’ twitch next to me, I realized I had lost him at the Smelly Kid.