A few years ago, I was at a women’s retreat put on by our church. I honestly don’t remember much from that weekend; I don’t remember what the retreat topic was, I don’t remember who was in my small group … but one thing does stick out to me.
During our first evening session there, a woman was leading a discussion on friendships and the role they play for women specifically. I remember this vividly because she opened her talk with the sentence, “If you don’t purposefully intend to be kind, you will by default be rude.”
Wow. Do you want to let that soak in for a second? Maybe go back and read that one more time. If you don’t purposefully intend to be kind, you will by default be rude.
In the years since that retreat, I’ve often found myself in situations where I find that saying to be true. I encounter “nice” all the time but it’s rare that I see real kindness. It’s not enough for us to be nice to others around us. Smiling at the person next to you in the checkout line at the grocery store is being nice. Kindness – true biblical kindness – I think requires a bit more intention and effort.
I could probably write a whole essay on this and how I think it applies to me as an adult but sadly this post isn’t going to be about that. It’s going to be about my daughter.
In my experience, I see lots of kids around her being nice but very few of them really being kind. As her mom, this stings a bit.
I see this nice-but-not-kind thing manifested in ways such as:
- E is so excited to see a friend she knows and repeatedly says “HI (insert name)!!!” (which is a lot for a socially challenged little girl) only to be ignored or maybe blandly told “Hi, E” and then ignored for the rest of the time**
- Being told that E can’t sit next to someone because that seat is saved for a different friend – to be fair, it’s not that this child didn’t want to sit next to E (I hope) but more that s/he would rather sit next to the friend the seat is saved for
- Kids being really excited to see each other when we do large group play dates but nobody that excited to see or play with E
- One kid passing out snacks to friends as they come up and ask for some but E, although she clearly is interested and wants some (standing right next to kid, looking and pointing at snack), is ignored and not given any because she didn’t verbally request it
**I’d also like to note that I’ve seen this behavior from kids who are E’s age or older — kids who are at the appropriate age to understand and be able to extend kindness to others. I’m not expecting miracles from toddlers/young preschoolers!
A lot of this is due to E’s autism and her inability to play like other kids play. I totally understand it; why would you be excited to see someone who doesn’t even talk to you or engage with you when you’re with them? I get why friendships are forming between other kids but maybe not with my own child. I get it but … I don’t think it excuses the lack of kindness.
This is a hard post for me to write. I don’t usually like to write about things I’m actively struggling through without presenting any kind of resolution. Some may think that this is a harsh post to write about other children but the truth is, I am not perfect and these are real emotions that I fight on a daily basis as I try and keep my eyes focused on Christ. I know my role as E’s mom colors my perspective as I deal with these issues and I want to also say that I am surrounded by some really proactive parents who try and instill true, biblical kindness in their kids. I’m in a season of life when my kids and their friends are all pretty young and still developing; I know Christ-like character takes a lifetime to form – goodness, I’m still working on kindness myself! But I guess this is just something that’s been on my mind lately and I tend to write things out as a method of working through them. If you’re reading this and you’re a parent, may I encourage you to actively pursue kindness not only in yourself but also in your children? I think it’s a seldom focused-on trait as it’s often thrown in with being nice, but as I’ve pointed out, there’s a difference between being nice and being kind. Let’s all be mindful about our intentions on kindness so that we don’t end up being rude by default! :)