It amazes me how often I hear people complaining about their children. Just the other day a supermarket cashier proceeded to tell me how difficult her teenagers had been. She looked towards my two youngest giggling with each other (four and eleven) and told me I had better watch out as the teen years are hell. When my eighteen year old walked over and began helping and chatting with her siblings the cashier assured me, looking down her nose, that the latter years are the worst.
It is common to hear stories like this, people moaning to complete strangers about the evils of teens and the terror of tots. Most days we hear someone somewhere complaining about, disrespecting or just being plain old mean to children. It shocks me just how culturally acceptable this seems to be.
In the name of ‘teaching respect’ adults can be remarkably rude to children, highlighting the mistakes of their own children and others in public, embarrassing them and demanding obedience as if these things will make them better people. Asking children for the ‘magic word’ and forcing children to apologise are such common and entrenched parenting tactics they may seem harmless.
Our actions can be so much more powerful than our words and by modelling courtesy and respect we are far more likely to receive it. Surely the sentiment behind these words, the genuine care and respect for our fellow humans, these are what we want from our children. We can model the use of please, thank you and sorry in our interactions with others and especially with our children.
The fear of humiliation or punishment can get in the way of all this. We all make mistakes and forget our manners. We can get too wrapped up in our own thinking and forget to treat others as well as we might otherwise do, this can be the same for all of us. Children have so much to learn and are developing all the time, sometimes they will forget and they will make mistakes but when this happens we can choose to be supportive and respectful not disrespectful and critical.
We can set the tone of our relationships. By being respectful, polite and courteous, kind and compassionate to our children then we give them a gift they can share with others. Taking small steps every day to become kinder and more generous in our interactions strengthens our relationships and deepens the bond we share. But by complaining about and belittling our children we risk losing so much. We are damaging our children, ourselves and our societies. Building a culture of kindness in our homes will radiate far and wide, and the impact will be felt down the generations.
I know that many of us find it difficult to acknowledge our own strengths and it can be so much easier and more comfortable focusing in on our weaknesses, maybe sometimes this is an extension of this – if we see our children as a reflection of ourselves then it may be hard to be honest about their achievements as we have such a hard time recognising our own. Maybe there is embarrassment in speaking of our children too positively as this might seem like bragging and arrogance. For some of us childhood was not a pretty time, we might find ourselves replaying the tapes from those days and repeating the harsh words that were said to us. Sometimes it can be hard to be show kindness to others when we have not experienced that ourselves, but we get to make choices everyday, every moment.
Make the choice to be kinder to yourself and to your children, you will be doing us all a good turn.