When I was in my clinical internship, a supervisor asked us psychology interns to go around the table and say what we wanted for our children or how we wished for them to be. None of us had children at the time, and I remember most of our answers having to do with intelligence, good health, and no mental illness (we were future shrinks after all). Having actually had a child now and counseled many, many others, I think my answer has changed.
All I really want for my child is for her to be kind to other people. Don’t get me wrong, smart is wonderful, healthy is great—who doesn’t want those gifts and rightly so? But if I had to narrow it down to one quality, I would choose kind. Note, I did not say “nice.” Nice does not equal kind. In the dictionary, “nice” means “pleasant,” “agreeable.” Kind, while similar, means “loving,” “gentle,” and “of a helpful, forbearing nature.” It’s easy to be pleasant and agreeable most of the time; it’s harder to be loving and patient.
I was reminded of all of this over this summer when I experienced two deaths in families close to Avery and me. One was a close friend and mother of Avery’s friends; the other was the infant of a close friend. In both cases, I had to face explaining to my six-year-old about death and what we do when someone dies. All children are different, and some six-year-olds might not be ready emotionally or developmentally to learn about death, and I certainly would never judge or second-guess another parent’s decision on this issue for his or her child. However, in keeping with our spiritual faith, I felt it was important that Avery begin to understand that we do not live for this world but for the next, and sometimes loving people means you have to do things that are hard, even scary, like going to a funeral. Avery, with the faith of a child, handled both experiences beautifully and bravely. She sang with her classmates at her friend’s mother’s service and she drew a picture for my friend of her baby, telling her that Mary was holding her baby for her now. She was also a great comfort to me, and instead of being fearful about Mom crying A LOT, she offered Kleenex, hugs, and cupcakes to “make Mama feel better because you’re so sad.”
To raise a child to be kind and empathic in today’s world is not easy. We live in a selfish, narcissistic culture where people’s feelings are easily discarded at a whim. Where taking what you want, doing what you like, is considered “freedom,” and we measure success in dollar signs. When you only care about yourself, life is easy. You don’t have to do hard things out of love, like helping a friend grieve and facing your own fear of your parent dying. I know adults who can’t or won’t take those hard steps, and I think instilling the value of kindness has to start early so it becomes ingrained as part of one’s nature. In the Catholic faith, we talk a lot about “carrying your cross” as a way of describing doing something hard in the name of love. But to carry a cross, you first have to decide to pick it up. Loving people, being kind to people, is not always pretty, pleasant, or nice. It takes courage, no matter how old you are.
Having an emapthetic child means she sometimes makes mom 'treats'.