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“What does kindness mean?”
My question hung in air between us for a bit as they knew exactly why I was asking. Most nights seem to require at least a quick emotional melt down right before bedtime. With consistency, it’s as if my announcement that bedtime has once again arrived is received by their ears much differently than my rather practical intent. The message somehow jumbled and transmitted to their brain, “hurry up, fight, argue, instigate, you’ve only got a few minutes left in this day!”
Little exception to this every evening phenomena. Someone is bound to lose the race up the stairway. No fewer than three times a week does one of them rush upstairs to lock the bathroom door leaving the other two pounding hard demanding in.
Some times tears happen, too. Actually crying is relatively normal and at times, a rather dominant expressed emotional response. Perhaps if someone uninvitingly rearranged the dolls I had taken 5 minutes out of my schedule free day to set up at a tea party in my room, I’d crumble into tears and pieces too. Or maybe if my little sister didn’t really understand the pretend scenario that I instantly created, details lacking and changing, I’d take it deeply to heart and fall apart. “You just don’t get it, Dad.” My thought, “thank God I don’t get it.” We’d be a fiery mess of emotion and tears if I did get what they get.
Maybe it would be weird if at least one of the girls didn’t have a good cry at some point in every day. What amazes is how quickly those tears can dry. They dry fastest when they get what they want.
I love my daughters and am utterly committed to loving them just as completely as I know how and can learn to. But even with the assistance of my mom interpreting their often indiscernible emotion code, I’m lost in those little moments when tears fall quickly and emotions blare out. I’m just not that emotional of a person. Especially when I look at the array of quick emotions they can shift through.
I know that they love each other, too. Siblings fight and argue as a natural part of establishing who they are and working through life as they grow into it. As a man, I imagine it might be easier to break up a physical squabble between boys. But I don’t have boys. I am fathering three girls who only have a dad. I’m learning how to relate and find my pace with them in these emotional times.
So back to our bedtime question, “What does kindness mean?”
“...love.” “...nice.” “...happy.” (One guess at who this last response belonged to.)
“All good answers, girls, but not fully right.”
“Awwww!” said the one who answered ‘happy’ as she rolled around on the bed only half invested in the question.
“Kindness means being kind.”
One of the most important things to me as a father is teaching my daughters not simply about life, but precisely how to live it. I want them to be thought of as kind because they are kind in the way they act and treat others.
Rightly connecting the information with behavior and action is the key that unlocks them. Otherwise, I reduce myself only to an authoritative voice. A parent’s place and opportunity in the child’s life is not merely authoritative, but more so as teacher and guide.
If I want them to be, I must be.
“So what can you do tomorrow to be kind to someone? Pick someone, one person, who you will be specifically kind to?”
Their little responses were as seedlings opening up in the soil of their growing hearts. Learning to live, to be, in little ways. That defines and validates parenting for me.