Around 2008, I found myself laid off from a large mortgage company after 16 years of employment. A single mom with a lot of debt and a lot of worry, I decided to visit seniors living in a nearby assisted living home. Why? I had time. I had no excuses. And I was a marvelous conversationalist even if I say so myself.
Periodically, I took my then 13-year-old son along for the ride making sure he had a job to do. He loved calling out bingo numbers among a somewhat confused but willing audience. I loved watching him enjoy the experience.
He was oblivious to the loud cursing emanating from one or two of the residents or the pervasive smell of urine. It was life. It was raw. It was important he observe his mother display kindness and compassion.
I would tell him, “Jason, whatever you do, be kind to everyone. I don’t care who they are or what they do for a living, you should focus on treating everyone with kindness.” Once when we were in the car about to pick up some fast food for the evening, we had an interesting exchange.
As the window attendant asked for our order, I said with my very perky and overly saccharin voice, “HELLLLOOOOOOOOO. How are you tonight? Happy holidays!” before placing my order. After the attendant thanked me and then took my order, my son went on a vicious attack. “Why do you have to be that nice to everyone!” he said in a way that suggested I was a serial killer.
Not surprising, today my son makes it a point to ask almost every service professional about their day. I have to refrain from responding with, why do you have to be so nice to strangers! My point being that even when you think your children aren’t getting it, they are.
There’s a beautiful song called Children Will Listen. Written for the stage musical Into the Woods by Stephen Sondheim, it conveys that children are watching us carefully – the things we say, the way we behave, the things we do. It’s a lovely song about modeling the behavior we want to see our children adopt. Here’s an excerpt from the lyrics:
Careful the things you say
Children will listen
Careful the things you do
Children will see and learn
Children may not obey, but children will listen
Children will look to you for which way to turn
To learn what to be
Careful before you say “Listen to me”
Children will listen
Today, as parents worry and struggle about ensuring their children complete every virtual homework assignment, there may be a better way. My child failed many times over the years. Because I was a single working mom, I lacked the time and energy to oversee all of his lessons or attempt to try and control everything he did. However, his education was happening on an entirely different plane. And guess what? He grew up. He learned. He listened.
Kindness is one of the most important gifts we can give our children. It’s our future. It’s our hope.
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