We spend the vast majority of our parenting journey teaching our kids to be nice. We teach them to be kind and caring. We read books on encouraging empathy in our kids and how to foster gentleness in them. It IS important for our children to learn tact, social etiquette and how to be independent members of society. However, it is equally important to teach them to stand up for themselves, to be confident, to speak truth, to defend the defenseless, to RISE UP. Sometimes these two messages that we want our children to learn contradict each other. Sometimes we focus on the niceties, fairness, what is socially acceptable and culturally prominent. Is this imbalance hurting our kids?
The Day I Realized We Had a Problem.
One day I was out at the grocery store with my kids. We parked our 15 passenger “bus” and began the arduous unloading experience. While I was dangling a toddler mid air, of course wearing only 1 shoe, a young man approached us. It was instantly apparent to me that he was wasted, and equally apparent that he was in fact so wasted he was not a threat to my kids at all. My mommy radar satisfied, I warily continued searching for the darn shoe that was evading my every effort to find it. My eldest son is now 9 years old. As the eldest he has a sort of built in responsibility factor that the others do not. Chalk it up to birth order or personality, but the reality is, he is dependable, easy going, and incredibly “good”.
The man began joking around asking for a ride to the pub (about 15 steps away). We chuckled politely while I gave up and jammed a random boot I had found on my 2 year olds chubby little foot. Kids successfully out of the vehicle, we were closing up the bus when my son had an amazing learning experience. This young man turned his attention to my son saying, “This is a strong young man, he can carry me!” At this point, my attention was focused entirely on what was unfolding. I knew my son, I knew the state of this man, and I was curious to see how it would play out (remember I was just an arms reach away). Rather than intervening, I allowed my son to respond. He chuckled, his eyes darting back and forth towards me, a little bit “deer in the headlights” while he tried to come up with a polite answer.
Of course, lacking the tact and social boundaries I so carefully had instilled in my son, this young man was not so easily deterred. “You’re strong, you can do it!” he uttered as he put his leg around my sons back and began climbing on for a piggy back. At this point, my 9 year old was incredibly uncomfortable. The man got off and I decided to step in, smiling kindly I ushered my little ducklings to a more comfortable distance (my little ones are maybe a bit young for lessons of this magnitude). I waited for my son to say something but we were now in grocery shopping mode and he stayed silent. It wasn’t until we were in the car that I finally broached the subject with him. Super caszh, cuz I’m cool like that, I asked him, “How did that make you feel?”
“Yes son, it’s okay to be rude.”
We talked. We didn’t have a book to help us, a curriculum to go through. It was just him and I in the front of a car talking about the balance between self confidence and being strong and secure and yet still being kindhearted. And I told my gentle, sensitive son that it was okay to be rude. You see, we need to teach our kids that adults don’t hold the trump card. We need to teach them that it is okay to have boundaries, no matter how that makes someone else feel. We need to teach them that HOW we speak to other people is important, but it should never compromise our values, personal boundaries, or convictions. We need to stop being “nice” and start being real with our kids. Only then will they see that it is okay to take a stand and it is possible to find a balance between tact and saying no.
Obviously we don’t want to have rude kids according to the world’s standards. I didn’t tell my son to finger anyone or stick his tongue out. I told him that he can step away, he can put his hand out. That if joking and innuendos aren’t getting through to someone it is okay to change your expression, to be serious. That the time to worry about someone else’s feelings is gone and now it is time to stand up, or walk away, or get real. You see, I am not interested in raising a generation of children who are nice, fake, putting on a face for the sake of everyone else, people pleasers. I am raising my children to be bold, strong, unique, and confident.