Last week, I wrote about Toni Morrison and her now famous quote that she gave to Oprah during an interview: "when a child walks in a room, your child or any child, do your eyes light up? That is what they are looking for."
I loved this quote so much that I wanted to take another perspective on this quote. Last week, I talked about how this quote is the central tenant of raising kind kids. Particularly, as it relates to teaching our kids what it FEELS like to be loved and accepted so that they know how to SHOW love, kindness, and acceptance to others.
I believe this quote is not only loving and accepting a child so they know how to love others, but ALSO about role modeling what love is with others.
The most important job a parent has is to role model for their kids. If a parent does it, the kids will do it.
You know that moment when your kids say the same thing you say to them to someone else, whether it's positive or negative? I've had that moment…a negative moment…and it was a cringe-able moment to be sure. That moment where I realized, he learned to say that from me.
They are watching what we do and how we react, whether they acknowledge it or not. Our kids will treat others the way we treat them. At the same time, our kids watch how we interact with other adults and kids as additional information for how to treat others in their life.
If we don't acknowledge or accept other people in our lives, they will learn that is okay. If we show them how we resolve conflicts between partners is to yell, throw things, slam doors, or worse…they will do the same. Intergenerational, or transgenerational, abuse is real - abusive (or mean) behaviors in a home are passed down through generations.
How we treat others and how we expect others to treat us are learned behaviors. And, they are mostly learned at home.
I've shared this before. As a domestic violence survivor who is now raising three boys, I think constantly about how to make sure my kids are kind, respectful, and acceptance. That they understand consent. That they are upstanders, not bystanders.
It may seem like a tall order for such young kids. But, I believe this should be the value system of all kids. All humans. The earlier we start talking about this with them and role modeling it with them the better.
But, how do I ensure they don't treat others the way I was treated? I've read books and researched and tried to find this answer to assure myself of a certain outcome. After all this research, I never found the guarantee I was looking for. The guarantee that this parenting style would produce kind, accepting, and loving humans.
However, I did realize that the most important influencer of this outcome is right in front of me. And them. My husband and I.
Here are five ways my husband and I role model kindness, love, and acceptance for our kids.
Our Relationship. I realized that my kids get to witness a positive relationship in their life. My husband treats me with kindness, respect, and love. We argue, of course, but we demonstrate to our children how to resolve conflict peacefully. We have respect for each other, we have fun together, and we show affection to each other.
Everyday People. We cross hundreds of people in our path every single day. I am super intentional about personally acknowledging each one. The barista behind the coffee counter, the grocery store clerk, the mail man, and our neighbors and friends. I connect with them. I say hello. I treat them with kindness, respect, and acceptance.
Small Kindnesses. We talk about and do small acts of kindness everyday. For example, we have a rule in our house - first one to the door holds it for everyone that follows. Or, we grab the shopping cart from someone who doesn't need it. We pick up litter. We smile at someone passing by. Or, we stop and talk to a stranger who looks like they could use a pick up.
Doing Good For Others. We give back to our community. At least once a month, we have a larger activity where we honor a group in our community, learn about them, and find ways to connect to them and bring some joy or comfort to their lives.
Family Values. I say at least once a day (and on hard days, 100 times a day) that kindness and respect is a value we have in our family. And, if we aren't following this important value in our how we interact with each other and others, it's time for a serious conversation.
My boys see each of these every single day. It is this, I believe, that will produce the outcome of good, kind, accepting, and loving humans.
I write this as a reminder to myself certainly and as a reminder to all of you too. Our kids are watching. How we live our lives and how we act in front of our children will influence our kids on how to act toward others.
If we accept them, they will accept themselves and they will accept others. If we are kind to them, they will be kind to themselves and to others.
Raising the next generation of kids as the most kind and accepting is on us, parents and caregivers. I know, it's a lot of pressure. I feel it too. And, I'm not always perfect. Not even close. But, I wake up everyday with a renewed sense of purpose that at least in my corner of the world, I'm raising good humans. I'll take every chance I get.
So, make sure when your kid walks in the room, your eyes light up. You get on their level. You smile and give them a hug. When they are around, go out of your way to be kind and respectful to others.
It will not only change how they see themselves, but also how they see other people. And, I promise it will change you too.
It did for me. Thank you, Toni Morrison.