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I’ve always imagined parenting young children as somewhat similar to boot camp—you never get a full night’s rest, and the number of kids you have directly correlates with the number of wake up intervals.
Like boot camp, someone is almost always yelling; at you or at each other. Chaos reigns, there is never a dull moment, someone or something always needs immediate attention.
If you’re like me, you spend many quiet moments at night cataloging the day in your head, reviewing the things you did right and the things you did wrong as a parent. The list can be overwhelming, with the wrong often outweighing the right. Because of that reflection and the constant quest for improvement, I’ve found it important to recognize ways to improve upon my interactions and relationships with my children.
As every parent knows, this is emotionally and physically exhausting, difficult work.
You go to sleep—until you’re awakened in the middle of the night for something—and get up, exhausted, to do the same routine the next day. Hopefully the next day you’ve figured out a better game plan for addressing any of the shortcomings of the previous day, and every day following improves for the better. You spend as much time as you can trying to form your children into healthy, loving, and independent individuals, but you won’t actually be able to measure the return on your investment for a few decades.
So how do you actually know if you’re doing a good job?
I stick with trying to apply a basic tenet of the Baha’i Faith when I attempt to measure my effectiveness as a parent:
Likewise, they must treat with and behave toward all the governments, nations, communities, kings and subjects with the utmost sincerity, trustworthiness, straightforwardness, love and kindness. – Abdu’l-Baha, Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha, Volume 2, p. 436.
While this sort of universal kindness might seem like a lofty goal for small children, I think in practice it should be very simple: do I have kind kids? Do my kids get along with other kids? If we see other children at a park or playground, are my children inclusive more often than not? Do they show compassion when a friend falls, and encourage their friends to climb the ladder, go down the big slide, get up and continue playing? Do they play gently with younger kids and help clean up messes after playing? These answers are easy to come by when you watch your kids interact with others, and they provide you with an opportunity to keep or change course as needed.
What do you do if you have unkind kids? This is harder to admit but, still, simple to address. Demonstrate kindness yourself, and your children will follow suit. Point out the child who has fallen down who could use help getting back up; remind them to be gentle with animals and babies; get on the floor and help pick up the toys yourself. Your children may think: if cleaning up a friend’s toys is so important that mom or dad are doing it, I probably should do it as well. My parents weren’t even playing the game with us!
My husband and I continuously remind each other that little ears are always listening and little eyes are always watching. He reminds me to curb my cursing, and I remind him that four-year-olds don’t understand sarcasm yet, and that half of everything will be repeated to a teacher or friend.
Mostly, this all hearkens back to the foundation of all religion, the golden rule—do unto others, etc. We all know it—but we don’t all practice it. If you don’t have anything nice to say about another person, don’t say it, especially within hearing range of little ears. Keep it in your head or in your private conversation once the ears are in bed. Act with kindness until it is sincerely a part of your soul’s mantra and your everyday activities. Be kind to your children—don’t punish them with pain, speak to them harshly or demean them. If you exemplify kindness, they will naturally want to follow your lead.
Yes, it is harder to be kind to strangers or people very different from ourselves, so those are the very persons you should begin befriending. Once you have shown kindness to those hardest to be kind to, nothing can stop you in applying those same principles in the rest of your daily acts. I always hesitated to befriend strangers or persons who hold ideas very different from my own until I realized that I was the one with the issue. Everyone else is just trying to survive, and nothing is lost when practicing sincere kindness. So say awkward things; go in for a hug when someone tries to shake your hand, give others your full attention, recognizing your common humanity. Demonstrate your love for others in real, palpable ways. But above all else, truly mean well and show real kindness in whatever way works best for you. That is what separates words from actions:
Put into practice the Teaching of Baha’u’llah, that of kindness to all nations. Do not be content with showing friendship in words alone, let your heart burn with loving kindness for all who may cross your path. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 16.
Kindness is a long game—children don’t learn it overnight, and neither do adults—so it requires commitment, constancy, and a lifetime of practice. Use kindness as a main measure of your parenting, though, and you’ll inevitably raise kind kids.