The Practice That Changes Lives, Meg Edition

I have a book called The Secret Language of Birthdays.  It’s horoscopic, ridiculously detailed, and shockingly applicable 95% of the time.  I’m not one for horoscopes, but this book is a find.  I’m a cusp birthday (Leo/Virgo) and a pretty dichotomous personality in general, but the words of advice on my day say that the biggest challenge for August 23rds is sometimes simple kindness.  Shazaam. If that doesn’t hit home, nothing does.

I pride myself on being tolerant and accepting of people on the whole.  Different strokes for different folks.  If we all liked Chevys, they wouldn’t make Fords.  You get it.  I’m a UUer to the core, and I think there is validity and wisdom in all of our different paths to a moral life.  BUT I intentionally keep in check my knee jerk reaction, which is hardly ever kind.  Instead, it’s usually sassy and stinging, or at very least direct.  I was gifted with wordiness and a bottom line mother, so that’s almost always the first stop my mind takes after being presented with a tidbit of information.

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Tim and I have been committed to kind and open communication from the start (which of course isn’t perfect, but it is our reality 90% of the time) and we continue to work the hardest at that above all else.  It’s sort of like teaching kids to read well and then relying on that to help them grasp all the other stuff.  Being kind is our basic skill on which the others depend.  The hardest times to be kind to each other?  When we are with our extended families.  It sounds weird at first, but they you remember the family dynamics from childhood, the element of being comfortable enough to speak your mind, the defensiveness of wanting what’s best for your siblings and parents and not necessarily agreeing with their choices in that moment.

All of a sudden, I’m annoyed with something and Tim forgot to put Silas’s hat on and SNAP–out comes a snarky comment about how he drives me crazy.  Not kind.  The same holds true when we go to see his family.  Tensions run higher for him, he feels pressured and excited to see people (social butterfly), the guard is down but the idiosyncrasies of family remain and he gets snappy with me about something straightforward.  Outside of these times, we spend our time at home doing a really great job communicating.  We say what needs to be said, relay emotions good and bad, and ask for changes in the other person’s behavior without guilt, blaming, or defensiveness.  I’m continually proud of us in that department, and there isn’t a whole lot I’m proud of as far as my accomplishments go.

Let’s put partner kindness aside.  Next up:  our kids.  I feel like I really rocked being a generally kind and patient parent (which was like its very own zen practice) until the last few months as Silas inched closer to 2 years.  He’s a determined boy with big (and usually complex) ideas about how he wants to play with his sticks/bugs/toys.  It can be frustrating for him and downright exasperating for me if I let it.  When something isn’t going a way that I necessarily want, I either move him away from what he’s doing to something more appropriate.  This sounds like parent of the year, but it’s often accompanied by a side of veiled annoyance, lighthearted sarcasm, or lately even raising my voice and turning into that mama that lost her cool.  I know, everyone does it, but the goal here (for us, anyway) is to teach our offspring how to deal positively and productively with negative emotions.  Mama freak out=Parenting party foul.

Our friends Jared and Melissa have brought up in conversation several times my calmness as a caretaker, and I am for the most part.  I rarely get bent out of shape.  But I have heard myself yell Si’s name in total frustration a handful of times in the last month and it feels horrible to both of us.  Yes, I’m stressed about juggling three babies who all sense transition, managing messes repeatedly in the same damn room in a day, packing up our house again, fretting about finding work down South, buying our next home and knowing it’s for the long term, disappointing family members by moving farther away…  And you know what Silas notices about all that?  That I’m grumpy and impatient and not loving.  I don’t want that to be what he remembers.

Does anyone make it to the age of 5 with more than 75% kindness in their voices?  Because I’d be willing to make some nominations for sainthood. I don’t like raising my voice, and I really don’t like it when other people raise their voices at my kid either.  I’m going to focus on my relationship with Si and the way my voice sounds when he is doing something that is less than helpful or appreciated, even in the midst of moving and packing and worrying about grown up things.

What about strangers? I find it interesting that Tim has the hardest time with this over the rest while I have the easiest time with it.  Several years ago when I lived in Chicago, I mastered the art of the benefit of the doubt.  My gut reaction to nasty/weird/rude/less than desirable things that happen is to assume it has nothing to do with me and adjust my plans to move forward accordingly and without anger, spent energy or resistance.  It’s really probably nothing to do with you, and you really aren’t going to change anyone’s mind with your reaction.  I plead non-reactive approaches and am so much the happier for it.

When do you find it hardest to be kind? Is it with those closest to you or those you don’t even know?

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