Faith, Life, Philosophy, Relationships

Have Courage, and Be Kind

The Kindness of Strangers by Darinka Maja on flickr

I sit here in the golden light of evening, wrapped up snug and warm in my duvet.  I’m holed up in my room for some quiet writing time, and it feels like bliss.

I haven’t been finding enough time for writing – not enough for writing blog posts, anyway, although I’ve been working on a piece for a local publication.  When Westley ushers me out of the chaos of boy noise and action and into the sanctum of this quiet space to collect and record my thoughts, I know that he cares.  He understands what it means to me to have this time to process feelings, thrash out ideas, and write, write, write.

And the thing is, the more I feel cared for by West, the more I feel connected with him.  So even though I am here, far from the madding crowd (as it were), and he – bless him – is in the midst of it, our connection is nurtured.

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A week or so ago, we watched Disney’s latest ‘Cinderella’ movie.  In the film, the protagonist Ella’s dying mother gives her an enduring piece of advice:

“Have courage, and be kind.”

This motto, which Ella puts into practice throughout the movie, resonates with me.

The necessity of the first part of this counsel is evidenced throughout the trials and challenges of life; if we are to chase dreams, pursue goals, and follow our hearts, we will undoubtedly encounter obstacles along the way.  Having the courage to face and overcome those obstacles is key to both success and happiness.  Not only that but, although we don’t always realize it, having courage is often a necessary step towards connection with others.

It takes courage to approach people we don’t know – even if we imagine that some of them might have the potential to become our friends.

It takes courage to show empathy to those outside our immediate sphere.

It takes courage to meet people where they’re at (and, for me, that includes having the courage to drive new roads and tackle traffic in unfamiliar areas!).

It takes courage to perform, speak, or play in front of people.

It takes courage to make ourselves vulnerable in sharing our hearts.

But each of these things, if we summon the courage to do them, can lead us into a closer relationship with those around us.

I remember, on my first solo trip overseas as a young adult, meeting another young woman on the Tube from Heathrow.  We were similarly adorned with large backpacks and other carry-ons; but whereas I was journeying into my adventures, she was returning home from hers.  We got to chatting, as you do, and she shared with me how excited she was to see her family again, but that she felt it was so important that she’d been brave enough to head off and go travelling on her own.  She said, “I was so scared to leave, but I realized that courage isn’t doing something without being scared – it’s about doing something you need or want to do in spite of the fear.”

That wise young backpacker – she was probably a decade and a half younger than I am now, but she’d got it right.  Being courageous doesn’t require us to be fearless; it requires us to do the important thing even when we are afraid.

And as for kindness, well, it has been on my heart lately to write about the symbiosis between caring and connection.  Everywhere I look, I see the one leading to the other, and it is a beautiful thing.

A while back, I heard the story of Tinney Davidson (as depicted here in a Canadian TV news segment).  Mrs. Davidson is in her eighties.  When her husband retired, the two of them began a habit of waving to the high school students as the teens walked by their living room window en route to and from school each day – and pretty soon many of the students were waving back.  Her husband passed away some time ago, but Mrs. Davidson has continued her practice of greeting the students walking by her house.  She makes a point of being there to see them.  This elderly lady has shown caring, simply by making a point of greeting these kids, and the result has been a connection that runs deeper than either she or the teenagers could have anticipated.

Then there’s that Thai life insurance commercial – you know the one?  (It’s here if you’ve missed it.)  In the video, we see a young man going about his day.  On his way to and from work, he performs one small act of kindness after another: he pushes a parched plant under a dripping gutter; he helps a vendor push her unwieldy cart across the road; he shares his lunch with a stray dog; he reaches into his wallet and pulls out one of the few bills within to give to a begging mother-and-daughter; he hangs a small bunch of bananas on an elderly neighbour’s door handle.  And at the end of the day, this generous man sits down alone to a simple meal of boiled rice.  He is not rich; but we see by the end of the video that he has cultivated relationships with those around him – his wealth is in the connections he has forged through his kindness.  And he has made a true difference by caring; the poor beggar-woman has been able to send her daughter to school.

It’s such a simple video, and yet it has gone viral – it touches people profoundly.

The reason kindness is so powerful is this: we are all LONGING to connect.  Kindness is a means to that connection. (It is, too, an expression of love – and a response to the goodness with which God has blessed us – and the fringe benefit is that we become more deeply connected with others through it.)

We all need relationship.  Oh yes – even introverts.  Even if you connect with others and then need to retreat from the world to regain your sense of equilibrium, I’ll bet that, deep down, you still covet connection.

I take, as further evidence of this truth, the enthusiasm with which my little gang of boys and I are greeted as we arrive on the path to school.  One little boy, who’s accompanied to school by his loving Grandma, leaves her side to make a beeline for our party when he spies us.  He hops off his scooter and slows his pace (and ours!), as if to draw out the time until we arrive at the schoolroom; and he always has something he wants to chat about.  He looks up at me, eager to share some little nugget of news or other.  Why?  He wants connection.  His Mama is working in the morning, but he’s still craving that Mama-time – and I’ll do in a pinch.  He’s not neglected – no doubt he’s loved and cherished by his parents as much as our boys are loved and cherished by us – but he has a specific need for a mother’s nurture.  I recognize it, because my boys have the same need – and that’s why our morning walk and hang-out time before school is so precious to me.  If I were working away from home at that time, I’d hope that another Mama would understand their need for reassurance and show them just a little bit of kindness to fortify them for the day ahead.  Eye contact, a pat on the shoulder, a listening ear, and an encouraging word as they head into school – it’s a simple thing, but it makes a big difference.

Another boy joins us for our walk home.  He makes a point of checking in with me and asking us to wait while he fetches his scooter so that he can walk home with us – even though we only go a portion of the way with him.  This boy is ten – not yet old enough to be left on his own, and yet (by necessity of his situation) he does spend a lot of time at home alone.  He’s mature, worldly (possibly rather too sophisticated for his age), and very self-assured.  And yet this child, too, craves connection.  He is thirsty for a mother’s attention, because his own Mum has to be at work to provide for him.

It is a small kindness to notice the people in our lives who need us to share a bit of ourselves.  The old lady whom we see through her window, sitting alone in her living room – or the young teenagers, alternately unsure and cocky, striding along the sidewalk outside our house.  A young man who dines alone each night – or the poor woman who’s desperate for the means to allow her daughter to attend school.  The little boy who needs a stand-in for his Mummy at the beginning of the day – or the older boy who just wants to connect with a caring adult before he heads home to an empty house.  Even my very own boys, clamouring for my attention and trying my last nerves at the end of a busy day.

The reward for this caring is connection.

Have courage, and be kind.

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What situation in your life is demanding your courage, your caring, or your kindness?

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Anyone who reads my blog regularly knows that connection is very important to me.  I’ve just set up a new way to connect with my readers, too: if you’re on facebook, head along to my new fb page: [https://www.facebook.com/autocratricks]  This is my new way to notify friends of the latest posts and to share more informally with my readers.  Thanks in advance for checking it out, and for ‘Liking’ and sharing it!

– Trix

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Parenting

Giving In or Giving Up?

Giving In by Lauri Vain on flickr

 

For most of my teen years, and into my early twenties, I was a devoted babysitter/nanny.  The kids and I would eagerly anticipate our time together, and we’d play and read and chat happily until bedtime.  I’d tenderly bathe, change, and feed the babies and younger ones and boisterously entertain the older ones.  Thinking back, it’s hard to believe it was me with that much patience and energy…

Having been raised in a South African home, in which respect for authority and obedience were prized attributes in children, my idea of standing in loco parentis involved both devotion and discipline.  I would have run into a burning building for the kids I looked after, and I tried to never slack off in my childminding duties – I was devoted to them and I worked hard to be disciplined myself, even as I gave them discipline.  I was intentional about teaching or reinforcing good manners, kindness, and respect – but with a lot of fun and laughter thrown in for good measure.

I was enthusiastic, loving, dedicated, and strict.  Oh wow was I strict.  Other sitters gave up on getting little K to brush his teeth before bed but I – taking my job as parental-substitute seriously – insisted and wrestled and coaxed until he eventually relented and had them brushed.  There were tears (his) and frustration (both) – but by golly I got the job done.  Because I was serious about my responsibility to the parents of my charges, it was important for me to uphold their rules and schedules inasmuch as I was able.  It was an effort, but to me it was what I was paid for.

Amongst my most regular families (from the time that I was about twelve into my twenties) was a most beloved group of kids – three at first, and eventually four.  This family was loving, kind, generous, and very special to me; so much so that when the fourth child arrived, the parents asked me to be a godmother.  I was utterly delighted by the honour, and by each of the precious children (all of whom are now grown up –  writing that makes me feel practically geriatric!).

One night, when I was babysitting, the kids sprung a request on me to have a sleepover together in the oldest girl’s bed.  They insisted that this was their Friday night ritual, but as the parents hadn’t mentioned it to me I felt that I needed to err on the side of caution and say ‘no’.

The kids begged and cried and some of them raged and railed – but I would not budge.  I kissed their tear-streaked faces and said prayers with them, but they were not happy with me.  I bent down to tuck the third child (a darling little guy of about seven whom I’d babysat since his infancy) into bed, and without a bitter word, he reached his arms around my neck and said in a voice thick with misery, “Night-night.  I wuv you.”

It was a defining moment.  With that short but sweet statement, everything became clear.  This wasn’t about what was best for them (although I’d mistakenly thought it was); it was about what was best for meI didn’t want to disappoint the parents or appear to be too slack; I wanted to stick to my guns even when it got tough – but that wasn’t what really mattered.  These kids were generally obedient.  They were loving.  The parents were supportive of me and my authority and care in their absence.  So I didn’t actually need to be so tough.  I didn’t need to be so unrelenting.

“Guys,” I announced, “I’m sorry.  Your parents didn’t tell me about your sleepover routine, and I didn’t want to mess up.”  I went on to tell them that little J was the one they should thank, because his sweet response had made me change my mind.  I told them that I thought their parents would be OK with that (and they were).

I gave in.  I gave in because it was the kinder choice.  It was the gentler choice.  It was the most reasonable choice, too, although I didn’t see it until my sweet little J showed me such love and grace even in the face of my rigid unreasonableness.

That night was the beginning of a long learning process – a process in which I am still learning, and through which I’m still evolving – the process of learning to distinguish between giving in and giving up.

But there’s no difference, you might say – giving in is the same thing as giving up!

Here’s why it’s not the same thing:  giving in and giving up have different purposes and stem from different motivations.

You give in to a child’s request in order to be sensitive, loving, and merciful.  You give up in order to avoid confrontation, to be freed from the effort of enforcing a rule, or to save yourself from losing a battle you don’t think you can win (even if it’s important enough that you should instead prevail).  Giving in is saying to yourself, “I think I’m denying their request for an ice cream on this hot day just because of a knee-jerk response to say ‘no’ when they ask for stuff; maybe today I should say ‘yes’ instead”; giving up is saying to yourself, “They’ve already had too much sugar today, but if I keep saying ‘no’ they’ll keep whining so I’ll just give it to them and they’ll shut up.”  Giving in is done to save your kids from suffering (feeling unimportant) or missing out on something unnecessarily; giving up is done to save yourself difficulty or discomfort, even at the cost of doing what you know to be right.  Motivation and purpose define the difference between giving in and giving up.

 

GIVING IN teaches kids

GIVING UP teaches kids

… that their opinions and feelings matter enough to you for you to make the effort to change your mind. … that the issue doesn’t matter enough to you for you to make the effort to follow through.
… that they have the ability to negotiate. … that they have the ability to manipulate.
… how to listen compassionately and capitulate when reasonable. … how to avoid challenging situations whenever possible.
… that they can count on you to choose the best AND most gracious option. … that they can count on you to choose the easiest option.
… that you are a reasonable parent and a considerate decision-maker. … that you are a weak parent and a conflicted decision-maker.

 

I think that inexperienced parents are more likely to mistake ‘giving in’ for ‘giving up’ and – to their credit – they are often reluctant to do the former for fear of succumbing to the latter.  But to me, there’s also a difference in the things on which less experienced parents and those who’ve been parenting for longer will capitulate.  The things we struggle with in early parenthood (for our first children, for those of us who’ve had a few) are rarely as big a deal when we’ve been in the parenting game for longer.  We get better at distinguishing between ‘childishness’ and ‘naughtiness’, for one thing; for another, we learn how to better discern between what’s trivial and what’s important –we learn how to pick our battles.  More experienced parents also tend to have a firmer grasp on what it means to give in and what would instead be just giving up on a point of contention.

As parents, West and I are still learning the finer points of this distinction.

My kids have been begging me to take them to the pool for a few months now.  And you know, going to the pool when I actually have to get in the water (and get everyone out/washed/dried/dressed) is kind of a hassle.  I’ve got more kids than I’m allowed to take in on my own (lucky excuse!), so I also have to rope West into coming – and although he’s happy sailing on the open seas he’s not so keen on being stuck in the water of an indoor pool.  Both of us have been reluctant for our own reasons.  But I could tell that this was important to the kids, and my Dad very graciously offered to come along and lend an extra hand – so recently we relented and just made it happen for the kids’ sake.

It was fun!  We stayed far longer than we’d expected, and it was a wonderful family outing all ‘round.  Totally worth shaving my legs for.

Giving in costs nothing; giving up costs everything.

So the next time you’re facing a parenting dilemma and you’re wondering whether you should just say ‘yes’ to your kids, ask yourself this:  Would this constitute ‘giving in’ or ‘giving up’? – and if you answer giving in, I say ‘Go for it’!  Saying ‘yes’ doesn’t have to reduce your authority, and it just might strengthen their respect.  Sure, it might chafe a little – but what’s a little razor burn in comparison with a happy family??

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