September 13, 2016

Kindness Starts with Yourself

How self-care and putting yourself first can make you a better and kinder parent

I've known Sara since I started blogging 3 years ago. Aside from her love of baking and her awesome gardening skills, I most admire her tact with words. Her poetry is beautiful and her thoughts on motherhood, writing and everything in between are written with such grace and poise. I'm so glad she shared her voice here with me. Read on for her thoughts on why being a kind parent starts with being kind to yourself. 
Tells us the kindest thing you’ve ever experienced as a parent.
The days can be long when you’re a parent. We all have days where everything seems inordinately difficult and time seems to slow to a stop. Even the smallest kindness can make all the difference. My husband taking over when he gets homes from work, the kids running me a bubble bath, a stranger complementing my children, or me. These things all happen, but I can’t pinpoint specifics. And, I wonder if the moments have simply been lost in the haze, or if I have been so caught up in just getting through that I haven’t taken the time to stop and commit them to memory. 

Who/what inspires you to be kind? Explain why they/it inspires you to do so
I suspect we all have people in our lives that we look at and wonder, how do they do it? How do they manage to be so thoughtful and mindful of others? Why don’t they get bogged down in the day to day and just forget, like I do? But, watching them gives me pause, and I aspire to be more like them. When you see the effect that a small act can have on the recipient, it makes the effort of taking time to do the same so evident and worthwhile.

And then, my children. There is no guile with kids, and the little kindnesses that make your heart melt; an unexpected “I love you”, a hug, bringing you a soft toy to cuddle because you look sad; this all reminds me how easy it can be to be kind

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)?
It has taken me many years to realize just how important self-care is. Being tired and stressed has always fallen under the heading: it’s just the way it is, so get on with it! But, that’s not the case, and I think that kindness becoming a mindset, a way of living, has to start with yourself. If you can’t understand how to be kind to yourself, or manage to be, then being kind to others is always going to be hard. It’s too easy to be critical and negative. So, over the last few months I have slowed down. I have let go. I have taken time. Read a book, taken a bath, treated myself to an hour in a cafĂ©. All these little things have made a huge different to my state of mind, and in turn to my ability to shift my focus away from myself and on to others.

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)?
I do think that it’s easier said than done, but I also think that this often has more to do with laziness or fear, than a desire to be unkind. I know that I am inherently selfish, whether by nature or circumstance I’m not sure (we all have events in life that shape us), and that my sense of self-preservation sometimes stops me from exposing myself to potential disappointment. There is risk involved in random acts of kindness. For those of us who are insecure in ourselves, fear of rejection/getting it wrong/misjudging is very real. 

However, I know that I need to make sure that I don’t pass those (unnecessary) insecurities on to my children. I ask my children how they feel when they are treated unkindly. I tell them that you must never judge people, as you don’t know what they may be dealing with. That being kind should be a given, that there is never a good reason for being unkind. 

But more than that, I want them to understand that there is a difference between simply not being unkind, and taking the time to be actively kind. That making the effort to do something nice for someone is never wasted effort. And, when I see them do that, I make sure to tell them how proud I am.

As a parent, what does kindness mean to you?
I’ve been a parent for ten years, and I’m still grappling with this question! It is eye opening to watch your children find their way in the world, to see them model your behaviors (good and bad), to see them be unkind or thoughtless. And, while I think it’s natural for siblings to be mean to each other at times (however painful it might be for me to watch), this boundary pushing has to be balanced by the ability to empathize and show kindness. 

Being kind is about taking time. Time to notice the little things. It’s about being proactive and aware. It’s about looking outwards as well as inwards. At its very simplest, it’s about making someone smile.

What lesson do you want your kids to learn about kindness?
When I look at the world that our kids are growing up into, one that almost finds unkindness praiseworthy, I worry. Celebrity gossip, hateful politicians, unnecessary wars, the pursuit of money over happiness. What they see demonstrated to them on a daily basis is not kindness. It’s thoughtlessness, fear and ignorance. But, these are all big issues, and there is a danger that they become overwhelming and drown out the simple acts of kindness that are just as prevalent, but less visible. 

We all need to start with ourselves. Don’t worry about what other people are doing, focus on yourself and your actions. Every small kindness does make a difference. We might not see the effect immediately, but it makes a difference. And, not just to others, but to our own sense of self-worth. Treat others as you wish to treated, even when they don’t deserve it. You will never regret being kind, even to those people who you may ultimately choose to walk away from. You will, however, regret being unkind.

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