The other day I received a very thoughtful card in the mail from my mother in law. She had remembered that one year ago today, around this time, we were burying my mother. She sent me a thinking of you card, in which she wrote that she was happy that I was a part of her family. It was, by far, the single nicest thing that anyone had done for me in a while.
I was still thinking about this thoughtful gesture when I picked up my boys from daycare/preschool that afternoon. On the way out of the church I told my son about the card I had received from his grandmother and I asked him if knew what Grandma had been feeling when she sent it to me. We talked about compassion and empathy. Later that evening at the dinner table I asked my big four and a half year old if he could tell Daddy what feeling Grandma had when she sent me the card. He couldn't. But he could say that Grandma was thinking about Mommy and that it made Mommy feel good. I'll take it.
I talk to my boys a lot about what we are feeling. And about what other people are feeling. And about our role in what others are feeling. I believe that understanding how we feel and how our actions impact how others feel is the foundation for raising compassionate, caring, and loving boys. I believe that boys need to be allowed to be boys- to run and jump and lay on the sidewalk looking at bugs. I want my boys to climb trees and play football and get dirty. But I also want them to appreciate music and feel the power and satisfaction of creating music. I want them to read and be able to appreciate, if not like, art. I want them to be well rounded. And that includes compassion.
The same day that I received the thoughtful message from my mother in law a friend of mine posted on facebook a status update about bullying in elementary school. A discussion ensued and one theme was prominent ~ none of us really remember kids being mean to each other when we were in elementary school. And it got me thinking. This is why I want my boys to understand compassion and empathy. I know there is a fine line between raising confident boys and raising bullies.
I also know that I have sons who may one day be the target of a bully. My big four and a half year old has a crooked little nose that is pushed in one side, a casualty of his cleft lip and palate. One day it will be repaired. But he has already come home from preschool asking why his nose is different that his friends'. The jump from 4 year old friends innocently asking him why his nose is different to a 5 year old bully mocking him for it is not a huge leap.
I know both my boys might one day face a pint size accuser calling them out on their heritage or on the fact that their mommy isn't "real". There is a real chance that my boys might be bullied. I also am not so unaware as to assume that my boys won't ever be the bully. Which is why now, when I see the chance to teach them about compassion, I seize it.
Last week when I picked up my big four and a half year old from school he and his friends were running races in the gym. My little guy is fast. He might not have noticed how his winning every footrace was making one of his friends sad, but I did. When we got to the car I asked if he had noticed. (He hadn't.) I asked if he could think of something he could do to make his friend feel better. (he couldn't.) We then brainstormed about skills his friend has that he could compliment. We came up with one, and he promised to try to remember to mention it the next day. Who knows if he did or not, but at least he thought about it. At least, for a few minutes during our car ride home, he thought about how when he wins, which is awesome, someone else loses, which is not so awesome for them. At least, for a minute, he thought about how he could make someone else feel better about themselves.
It's a start. It's a lot of responsibility, this parenting gig. I don't want my boys to be bullied as they navigate the already difficult world of growing up. But I don't want them to be the bully either. I want them to be confident and strong. But not so strong that they are hateful. I want so many things for my boys that it sometimes overwhelms me. The good news is that I am in control of at least a little part of their destiny. I believe the end of bullying starts at home. By teaching, and sharing, and talking, and living my words every day. Even the two year old knows how to say he is sorry. And I know when I first started making him say it when he hit his brother or threw something at my head that he had no clue what it meant. But now he says it while gently rubbing my arm, or while giving his older brother a little hug. Now he knows what it means to be sorry- he knows that he hurt someone and he has to make it right. And that is a good first step.