Aliyah's words are ones we should all take heart. During our conversation, she highlighted an important aspect of being kind: that it's cyclical. We learn to appreciate the kindness that we've received by giving it back to others. It's a simple thought, but one (among the many) that resonated with me during our discussion. Read on to see what other inspiring things she has to say about self-care and teaching her teenage boys about kindness.
Tells us the kindest thing you’ve ever experienced as a parent.
Many years ago, within weeks of moving to a larger apartment, our first son was born by emergency cesarean after 33 long hours of labor. After a few days recovery at the hospital, I returned home with a baby who was struggling to breastfeed every two hours around the clock and an infected incision (which took 6 weeks to heal). Needless to say, I was beyond exhausted. As an only child with an estranged father (my mother had died several years earlier), I didn’t have family to offer support and couldn’t afford to hire any help. As Hubby had just started a new job and couldn’t take any time off work, I feared for my health and sanity as I struggled to get from one hour to the next. I needn’t have worried. Our community rallied around us, coordinating lifts to and from appointments, providing babysitting help, delivering hot meals daily for a month (yes, a month!), donating hours of cleaning help and running errands and even gifting us with boxes of good-as-new infant clothing and linens. Their generous and loving support literally carried us through an exhausting and challenging time and gave us the great gift of strengthening our health and connection, freeing us to nurture and enjoy our beautiful baby. It was the embodiment of ‘it takes a village’ to raise a child and support its family.
Who/what inspires you to be kind? Explain why they/it inspires you to do so
So many people inspire me to be kind. When I was a child, I enjoyed Biblical stories of helping those less fortunate. As I matured, I began to appreciate the kindness my parents showed others: strangers, neighbors, friends and myself. Today, I appreciate the efforts of organizations and philanthropists dedicated to helping large numbers of people and the smaller, less ‘public’ acts of everyday individuals: people holding open doors, someone giving up their seat on the bus or subway, another person kicking a piece of glass off the sidewalk into the gutter. Little things like a smile in the waiting room, a kind word in the elevator, all make a difference in someone’s day and, to me, that’s tremendous kindness, too. Kindness doesn’t have to require large amounts of time or money. Small donations of even a dollar add up. Five minutes a week to call a shut-in can make a huge difference in someone’s quality of life. A ‘gesundheit’ or ‘bless you’ to someone’s sneeze can cheer a person for the day. Knowing we can all make a difference, daily, at home and at large, is inspiring. We all have something we can contribute.
It’s important to be kind to others, but it’s just as important to be kind to yourself. What do you do (or plan on doing) to be kind to yourself (either as a mother, as a professional, or as a woman)?
For a very long time, I prioritized helping and caring for others at the top of my list, creating the all too familiar scenario for wives and mothers: neglecting my own self. I got away with it for years… until I developed a chronic illness. In his enlightening book, When the Body Says No, Dr. Gabor Maté explains how our body sends us clear messages when we neglect important aspects of our health. When I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, I got the message. Now, I make sure to care for and strengthen myself so I have enough energy and reserves to give to others. ‘Rest and recharge’ is my new motto: I take time to read, enjoy a walk outdoors, linger in a scented bath, sleep a little longer when I’m tired and sit on the porch in the sun, listening to the sounds of nature. I now appreciate that my health is the foundation of all I am and have to offer and my first and greatest gift to others is my own wellbeing.
It’s often said that kindness is easier said than done. As a parent, what valuable advice can you give for showing kindness to others (especially to those who may not seem like they want or deserve it)?
True kindness is the act of providing care or benefit to another without the ulterior motive of acknowledgement or reward. It’s an expression of our value of the life and wellbeing of another for their own sake alone. When we give with the unspoken desire for reciprocity through thanks or appreciation, we become the ultimate object of our giving, not our intended recipient. But when we give freely and unconditionally of ourselves, regardless of the recipient’s response, we bless ourselves with integrity and wholesomeness and compassion. As parents, we practice kindness myriad times daily in the physical and emotional care of our children. Most often, there’s no direct reward for the changed diaper or laundered clothing or attendance at the PTA. The reward is in the knowledge of our eventual contribution to posterity and society at large by raising responsible adults. It’s also in the opportunity to acknowledge and show appreciation for the care we received as children ourselves by continuing the cycle of kindness. Focusing on the bigger, broader benefits of kindness makes the practice not only easier but an act of gratitude and grace.
What lesson do you want your kids to learn about kindness?
I want my children to understand and appreciate that kindness is in the little, everyday things we can say or do to make someone smile or help them. It can be as quick and easy as saying ‘good morning’ to the teacher or more involved, like sweeping the elderly neighbor’s walkway. It’s also picking up the spoon Mom dropped in the kitchen or opening the fridge door when Dad puts away the leftovers. Kindness makes others feel good and as a real plus, we feel good, too, knowing we are making the world a happier, nicer, more considerate place for all of us to share and enjoy. We all have the privilege of building the world and we can start just where we are; there’s no right time, right age to develop and share kindness. It’s open to all of us in every moment.