Thursday, March 26, 2015

I Don't Care How Smart My Kids Are

Confession: I don't care how smart my kids are. I don't care how fast they can run or how far they can throw a ball. I don't care how gorgeous or average-looking they are. I don't care if they can paint beautifully or if they sing and dance on Broadway someday. I don't care if they grow up to be doctors or landscapers (for the record...being a landscaper is an extremely honorable and amazing profession!)

What DO I care about?

I want my children to be kind.
The ability to affect the way someone else feels based on our actions or words is both a beautiful gift and a powerful weapon. It is up to us to choose. And to teach our children.

I don't know what the specifics will look like along the way. I don't know what every scenario will look like that we will face. I don't know what color each picture will be as it flashes by in our decision-making, but the one overriding thought that I want my children to process each scene with is "Be kind."

If I say this, how will this make the other person feel? If it was said to me, how would I feel? If I do this, will I be hurting them?
Addison really has no filter. She is going to learn from our behaviors and from her brothers' behaviors. If I practice and choose unkindness in front of her on a regular basis, she is going to grow up to be unkind.

If I expect people to treat Addison with kindness, then it is even MORE important that she learn to be kind. "Do Unto Others As You Would Have Others Do Unto You." Is going to be an important part of her life.
We are having an issue right now with her pushing people. Usually people she likes. Usually at times she is trying to communicate either frustration or SOMETHING (we aren't sure yet). But it's not okay. It's not OK for Addison to push. Having Down syndrome is not an excuse to be unkind.

And so we consistently stay on top of her for this. We work to figure out WHY she is pushing and increase communication skills accordingly. And I blushingly apologize to fellow mothers "Hey, my sweet little girl pushed your awesome boy and he cried and just gently got back up and didn't try to retaliate at all. Thank you so much for teaching him to be kind to her. I am trying so hard to teach her to be kind back to him. Hang with us. We are are work in progress."
When Carter took Addison's pudding bowl and emptied it into his own, slyly pushing her empty bowl back by her plate, I made him switch the bowls. Suddenly he was the one with the empty bowl while she had double. Didn't feel so good reversed. All of a sudden he said it wasn't "kind that Addison took HIS pudding." Hmmmm.

When Carter stole 3 candybars from the grocery store (Yes...mother of the year right here!), after I made him take them back and apologize, I gave his favorite truck to Addison and his favorite hat to Eli.  He had to sit in-between them in the car while they enthusiastically played with his cherished items. He got a quick lesson on the unkindness of people taking things that weren't theirs to take.

When I see Carter do something to help Addison, my heart swells as though he just tested #1 in the rank of all 3 year olds. When he DOES choose kindness or point out the difference, I feel like we are getting somewhere. When Addison gently pats the baby on the head (instead of walloping him in the head), I praise her enthusiastically. KIND hands. GENTLE hands.

These things are very important.
In addition to being kind to others, I want my children to learn to be kind to themselves.

They are going to make mistakes. I make mistakes. All humans on this planet make mistakes. Learning to be kind to ourselves through our learning processes is a measure of respect that we can give ourselves. Beating ourselves up over senseless things just because WE ARE NOT PERFECT (gasp) is energy better spent somewhere else.

Do I say this because I am a kindness expert on all fronts? Not even a little bit. I say this because I am learning this the wretchedly hard way. And in learning, my heart sharpens in its desire to teach this to my children.

And so I navigate the murky waters of kindness, learning alongside of my kids. It is messy, sticky, and hard. It is awkward and humbling and difficult. But I stand by kindness.
I stare into the beautiful eyes of my children and want to reach into their souls and place kindness there. I remember "Be kind" in the way I treat them. And I apologize to them when I fail at this. I work to treat others kindly, remembering that they are watching the way I treat even the most random stranger while we are out and about. I teach them "BE KIND!" We practice with "kind hands". And we have consequences when we are not kind.

Certainly there are times that we need to deal with hard issues or to stand up for ourselves. But there is a kind, loving, and gracious way to do this. And an unkind way. It is our choice to choose what pattern of behavior we will trek down.

Carter has started to become very sensitive to this. Underneath that rough little boy exterior, he has quite the sensitive little soul. I find this to be beautiful, and I treat it delicately with all the love and kindness that I have to offer. A few months back when he was still napping in diapers, one day I forgot to switch him from underwear to diapers and put him in his room for his nap. He had a small accident and started crying for me. Running in, I saw the mess, and I apologized for forgetting his potty needs.

"Mommy." He sniffed. "That was not kind. That was not kind at all."
While I told him he was absolutely right and I was so sorry, my heart swelled with pride. He is getting it. Sort of. (-; He is sensitive to it, and that is the first step. He is understanding how he becomes sad when he is treated a certain way and then it becomes easy to turn it around and ask him how he's making other people feel when he acts a certain way toward them.

When I say, "Addison, are you ready for school?" She responds back "Obey. BE KIND!" I know this is just memorized for now...but we are seeing tiny, small steps of progress.

Be kind.

We don't have any answers, or foul proof methods of raising selfish children into kind adults. We are just taking it one day at a time here. One incident at a time. And learning of the selfishness that is still in our own hearts along the way...

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