I am not a fan or forced “manners” or “etiquette.” You can force your kiddo to say “I’m sorry” or “Thank you,” but unless it’s coming from their own free will, straight from their tiny hearts, then it really means nothing. And I don’t want to raise babes who lack empathy and genuine kindness and compassion.
That means that sometimes, I’m fairly certain I’m raising self-centered sociopaths. Those days, weeks, stop me in my tracks and have me questioning everything I believe. Those are the times the bags under my eyes grow, my insomnia intensifies, and I find myself praying harder than ever that I’m doing this semi-right. Those are the times that test me.
But most of the time, fortunately, these kids are so incredibly empathetic that I want them to tone it down a notch. These are the kids that get hysterical in the car when I’ve run out of cash or granola bars to hand out to the homeless we see on the street comers. “But he’s a person too!” They cry. “He matters! How would you feel if that was you, and no one helped you!?” These kidlets have big ol’ hearts most of the time.
Miss H’s teacher sought me out yesterday just to tell me that when she’d misplaced her phone and keys, Miss H offered up her free playtime to help her look for them, completely unprompted, gaining nothing from the situation, just wanting to be helpful. You guys, I can’t take credit for all of Miss H’s awesomeness, I know I’m not truly that important in all of who she is, but man! Some days it feels so good to be able to say I’ve at least guided that girl to some of these places.
And Mr. B? Oh, that boy. He’s 5. He’s ornery and hilarious. He’s human, and thus often self-centered. He’s little, so I give him a lot of grace. Goodness knows I’m often in need of it, too.
So when we were planning his birthday party a few weeks ago, and he said, “Momma, what about my thank you cards? I need dinosaur cards to send to all my friends so they know how happy I am that they’re coming to my party,” I was pleased as punch. He was thinking of others, and my being a stickler for proper thank you’s was finally making an impression.
Again. I’m human. Sometimes I fall short. I think I didn’t get a thank you out to everyone who brought us food or gifts before and after Sweet M was born. I tried. I really did. And I got some out. But I know that I dropped the ball.
My older sister’s wedding card and gift is sitting in my kitchen. Y’all, she got married in June!
Still. Mr. B knew what he wanted, was completely unprompted, and deeply desired to thank his friends who hadn’t yet even come to his party because he was so happy they would be there. I’ve at least done a wee bit of modeling for him that planted a seed or two.
Mr. B doesn’t write yet, other than his name. He’s learning to write his letters, and can, but it’s a tedious task that I don’t want to become joyless for him. So I knew that I needed thank you cards for him to send that he’d appreciate, still have a hand in putting together, but wouldn’t get overwhelmed by such a large task and be turned off, thus no longer having such a generous and thankful heart of his own. Remember, I want these sorts of things to come from the heart. Not be forced. Meaningful wins out every time.
So I perused Etsy and found the cutest dinosaur thank you cards that came pre-written; I knew they were perfect for Mr. B. It was just the right amount of work for my little dude, and the cards were adorable to boot!
I try so, so hard to model and teach empathy to my children. I acknowledge their feelings. I make them stop in their tracks so we can listen to one another when we are having tiffs. I sigh too heavily some days and say “shit” far too much (my kids think “hate” and “stupid” are bad words. “Shit” is totally normal. Sigh.). But I try so, so hard to be a good person. To be so incredibly, genuinely grateful for not just the big things in life, but also the small things. I try to make it ever-evident to them that their feelings matter to me. All of their feelings. Even the big yucky ones. And I hope that in turn, one day, they too will care about the feelings of others. Even the big yucky ones.
Y’all, I’m stumbling most days. I’m messing up and questioning myself. But then these little hooligans have moments where they’re just so human and loving, and I’m all “Of course we’ve got this! Why did I ever doubt them? Or me?” And then I remember, “Oh yeah, it’s because we’re all just human.”