I realized something recently. As adults, we like to hear stories of other adults performing some sort of kindness. We like the feel-good stories of people helping their fellow man, standing up to injustice, or showing love to a total stranger. It restores our faith in humanity. It makes us feel good, and it motivates us to be kinder ourselves. Kinder. Gentler. More compassionate. You know what we don’t see all that often? People sharing about the times they weren’t all that kind, or respectful, or compassionate. And sure, we’re human. We’ve all done it: We have a bad day, and we inadvertently and regrettably take it out on some poor nearby soul. But we don’t rush to share those days, because we recognize – both on an intellectual level and on a heart level – that it’s not exactly something to brag about.
But when it’s a parent being unkind towards a child? We* (as a society) not only tolerate this bad behavior, but we embrace it. We actually cheer it on.
When it comes to kids, we glorify violence. We celebrate cruelty.
So while we seem to have it right when it comes to adult on adult behavior, our collective treatment of our children is abhorrent, and getting more concerning by the day. Baby, we’ve got a long way to go.
I feel like it started with the laptop shooting dad, but it has multiplied at an alarming rate since then. This trend of publicly parenting through bullying, shame, and intimidation is everywhere. I feel like I can’t go a single day anymore without seeing another one. Parenting has become a contest, but a sick one. A contest not to find the sweetest mom, or the most competent mom, but the meanest mom. Everything is backwards. Meanness is exalted, spitefulness is praised. Parents boast about how mean they are to their kids, and instead of gently suggesting alternatives (or possibly better yet, denying them any attention at all), we put them on a pedestal. We feed this very cycle of unkindness. A quick perusal of the comment threads on any one of these public shamings tells us everything we need to know. Hundreds, and yes, thousands of positive comments, singing the praises of meanness, shouting their rallying accolades, and devouring anyone who dare stand up for the children.
How can we do this to these little ones, the most vulnerable members of our society? The people who need the most empathy and the most tender care, are being maligned, minimized and mistreated.
And we’re watching it happen.
I don’t know the answer. I don’t. I know we need to keep talking about it. I know we can’t quietly sit back and accept it.
But it starts at home. It starts with our own kids.
And listen, I’m the first one to admit I’m not a perfect mom. None of us are. I struggle sometimes with patience. I sometimes let sleep deprivation get the better of me and am unnecessarily short with my kids. I have to constantly remind myself to live in the moment. I have to constantly remind myself not to sweat the small stuff.
Yes, I apologize to my children often.
But the big difference between me and the “meanest mom” supporters is that I’m saddened by mean behavior (by or towards anyone), not buoyed by it. So no, I won’t pat you on the back for celebrating meanness. No, I won’t be offering any “Atta girl!”s or “Way to go!”s or “Good job, mom!”s. No, I won’t praise you for being unkind.
And I get it. My opinion is the unpopular one. The cool kids are all worshiping at the alter of childism. Well, I opt out. I don’t want to be a part of your club. I don’t stand in solidarity with anyone who rallies around the idea of mistreating children. I don’t care how loud your voices are. I don’t care how many members you have. I don’t care how good your cookies are.
I Opt Out.
In my life, in my world, I will celebrate kindness. I will cheer for compassion. I will stand up for grace, and forgiveness, and gentle communication.
Children learn from our actions. Throwing away a child’s ice cream (because in his childlike excitement he forgot to say “thank you”) doesn’t teach him to say thank you, it doesn’t teach him what it means to be polite, and it doesn’t teach him gratitude. It teaches him that if someone doesn’t behave in the way we want, that it’s okay to bully them, and that it’s okay to take someone else’s things.
Children learn from our actions. Spanking a child for misbehaving doesn’t teach him right from wrong. It teaches him that “might makes right”, that pain and fear are effective motivators, and that it’s okay to use physical force on someone who’s younger and more vulnerable than you.
Children learn from our actions. Sending a child to time out when he’s having a hard time doesn’t teach him to think about his actions. It teaches him that mom is going to isolate him from her attention, her love, and her touch, at the very moment when he is needing them the most.
Children learn from our actions. Publicly shaming a child a for making a mistake doesn’t teach him not to do it again. It teaches him, again, to use bullying to solve his problems. It teaches him that he can’t trust the one person he should be able to trust the most. It teaches him to feel worthless, and ashamed, and humiliated… making him even MORE likely to repeat the behavior in the future.
Children learn from our actions. Punishing a child (as opposed to kindly communicating, listening, and guiding) does not teach him respect. Or responsibility. Or accountability. It teaches him to be bitter. To be angry. To be spiteful. It teaches him to be extrinsically motivated by the fear of mom’s negative repercussions, rather than intrinsically and positively motivated by his own internal sense of right and wrong.
If you want to raise kids that are polite, respectful, and kind, start by being polite, respectful, and kind to your kids.
It starts with you. It starts with us.
Let’s stop glorifying bullies, and start treating our kids the way we’d like to be treated ourselves.
Kids are people too.