Last week the whole family was hiking at Red Rocks. When we paused for a break behind the Trading Post, my older boys went over to check out the koi pond. By the time they came over to join the rest of us for roasted peanuts, they were incensed.
“The kids over there are trying to get a dead fish out of the pond with their hands! They are introducing germs into the pond. That’s not good for the other fish!” my oldest complained. The younger piped up, “AND, they are putting sticks in the pond, trying to touch the other fish! We told them not to.”
“They should go to jail,” they both agreed.
My first inclination was, “You aren’t the wildlife police, chill out, and let their parent take care of it.”
My kids have strong opinions. They are frequently horrified and often express their frustration and even anger at complete strangers for their perceived moral digressions. This instinctively makes me bristle.
Strong opinions? Yikes. Speaking your mind? Shhhhh. Can’t we all just be nice?
You know, “Nice (adjective): pleasant, agreeable”
Their are many aspects of parenting that have nudged me into challenging my own personal status quo, and here comes yet another.
When my oldest has recounted tales of witnessing schoolyard bullying and how he has purposefully become involved, defended another, or spoken up, I have been quietly panicked, impressed, and relieved. He did not inherit this trait from me. (I grew up becoming increasingly unwilling to share my opinion. During teen years, I often truly had trouble even forming an opinion and found my reaction to most questions was to freeze and scream internally, “What should I be thinking here?? I wish someone would just tell me…”)
When I happen to be in A-game mom-mode, I have reminded my son of the power and responsibility that come along with his apparent inclination towards stepping in. That the positive potential only remains when his words are chosen carefully, purposefully, confidently, and by not diminishing himself to a bullying-back position – merely name-calling or belittling the bully.
I want my kids to be the type of individuals who will speak up when they witness a wrong doing. And part of the reason I hope for that quality of character is so that they will develop into confident adults who will be part of change and justice, rather than holding their tongues when group momentum dictates.
I hope this child will grow up to be the one that isn’t reluctant to say “Excuse me, but why are you asking this man to leave the coffee shop?” or “I certainly heard her/him say no, so perhaps you should listen and move on” or “I saw what you did; choose to make it right.”
But when I witness their developing voices firsthand? Oooooooooo – it makes me a wee bit uncomfortable. It is confrontational, it may be verbally aggressive; it doesn’t sound pleasant or agreeable. Not nice. And my instincts tell me I want them to be nice.
When I pause, get quiet, and go beyond these initial instincts, I realize I am simply being presented with a few more parenting lines to walk. The line between my own tendencies and how I aspire to raise my kids. The line between letting them find their own natural personality, and influencing and educating them. The line between raising outspoken, confident, intelligent young people and just raising pushy obnoxious adults.
Certainly they often miss the mark in their perceptions of what warrants a meaningful transgression, and even more frequently they miss the mark in their delivery style, but I can see those aspects maturing along with them; those aspects are coachable. When they are older, I assume they will put more quiet thought into which issues they are truly willing to get fired up about and it may no longer be pond fish assaults.
But the willingness to speak up, to give voice to your opinion? That, I believe, must be nurtured or it will be lost. Not all of us need to be those people, but we do need more of those people in the world. If my hunch is correct, I have one under my wing. I must usher my discomfort out the window and support this kid wherever he is going.
Of course, I want to continue guiding my children towards more respectful communication skills, but maybe softening the actual message isn’t what is needed. Maybe that’s my issue. And maybe, just maybe, if they can learn to maintain their own integrity and control, they will be nice, not according to my former, antiquated definition, but in much more powerful way.