So assuming that we are all the nice people- What are we going to do about the mean people?
This can be a heavy question during parenting. Well, it can be heavy during any time of life.
Like say your relatives are poking fun at the Super Bowl half time show artist because he has some weird belt on. I can say “who cares” or I can say “you aren’t his target audience” or “it is a fashion statement.” If BeBe (my 19 year old) were here, I know she would explain with enlightened cultural sensitivity why my uncle doesn’t need to comment on the fashion choices of a hip hop artist. But at this moment, I don’t say much at all. I roll my eyes and look to my cousins to commiserate.
…Or the woman who lives below my mom in her condo- she complains about people visiting my parents and they walk too loud. She has actually called our kids bastards. She is out of control in a tired old lady kind of way. She is too thin and her dogs are too yappy and she texts my mom about grandchildren stomping while knowing that their grandfather is in hospice in that very same condo. My mom is dealing with life or death issues and we don’t care if the six year old is stomping. I say my mom should block her number so we can’t get her belligerent texts.
BeBe is at college and kids can be mean at college. Girls take her clothes, her pillow, her gum while she is out of her room. Wear said clothes. Instagram themselves wearing the stolen or “borrowed” clothes and smacking said gum. Ruin said clothes with fluorescent alcohol and leave these destroyed items on the floor of their own dorm room – NEVER to be returned.
What is there to do with these people? BeBe and I just discussed it on the phone as she drove back to school after being at her grandad’s funeral, and she’s right. She can confront the girl and ask for her clothes and the girl will say “Oh God. Sorry. I didn’t have anything to wear to that hockey game and I haven’t done laundry.” At which point BeBe can say “Ok” and pick up the disgusting jeans and jacket to wash herself and then dig through the rubble to retrieve her red high tops. Or she can avoid the whole awkward conversation and just pick up her clothes and go wash them.
I told BeBe that there have been hard times in my life when I have wondered what to do- confront someone? speak my truth? walk away? cry, beg and plead? or slash their tires? And I have asked myself “What would BeBe do in this situation?” I have tried to put myself in BeBe’s shoes because her shoes are capable, sensible, fun loving and fair. I have convinced myself to stand tall and not accept meanness or rudeness because of BeBe’s strength. She isn’t stodgy or inflexible. She is caring and cool and admirable. And considering her take on a dilemma makes me feel more sure of myself.
I worry that I squashed BeBe’s sense of fairness and justice in my attempt at guiding her to be nice and kind. BeBe was born with a righteous heart and I may have stripped some of that glory and keen decisiveness. Maybe I did this to all my kids. As a parent I focused on our one family rule, “Be Kind.” And it made sense.
We used to sing and pray the words of Mother Teresa. I had this impossible to find CD of two women singing these words from Mother Teresa and we would listen as Tuck played Thomas trains and Addy changed into dress up clothes. And I would hope with a mighty fervor that my children would be a light to the world- hat we would offer kindness wherever it was needed.
And Nanci Griffith.
Be Kind. Be loving. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Love your neighbor. But then your son is in third grade and some bully holds him up against the bathroom wall and you wonder, “what now?” And these are small potatoes. I mean, real meanness and injustice can be so much bigger. Look at Trump or Bill Cosby. But here we are meandering in the desert of parenting and dorm life and school cafeterias trying to assemble some rules of civilization.
It can be just way too overwhelming to consider these issues when thinking of Mim, my youngest with disabilities. She has a higher percentage of being bullied or sexually abused or mistreated due to the fact that she is a person with a disability. This year in fourth grade kids have said she is stupid, has cooties, fat, can’t even read, and she is never invited to birthday parties or playdates with her non disabled peers. But I can’t walk into her school and tell everyone to be nice to her. I can’t make the other mothers include her in their invitation email list. I can’t make the teacher focus on Mim exclusively to protect her every moment.
I can hear my dad in my head, “You just don’t do people like that. You just don’t!” My dad was dumbfounded by people’s meanness. And yet the nature of humanity pops up again and again and people do us wrong. And what do we do?
“It’s not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.” L.R.Knost
And I wholeheartedly believe. I am a follower of the church of kindness, the religion of Fred Rogers, and the teachings of Winnie the Pooh. I preach to my choir of angels. And we are kind, for the most part. Or as kind as we can be.
Yet, how does one get their matted jacket off the disgusting dorm room carpet? How does one ask why you didn’t call my dad when he was sick? Or why have you never reciprocated Mim’s playdate offers? How do we turn the other cheek and take care of our psyche? How do we raise strong people and kind humans? There is no rule that a kind person cannot take care of themselves- but somehow I sink in the pluff mud of this philosophy.
When do we draw the line? Where is the line between standing up for ourselves and being kind and understanding? The nice ones among us, the empathetic ones, we know that you are mean because of a past trauma, or missing breakfast or lapse of judgement or a personality disorder or loneliness. We make excuses for you because we know on some deep level, there is no nice people and mean people dichotomy. We are all nice and mean. We are all a mixed up mess. No one is perfect. But we don’t want you borrowing our clothes without asking and we don’t want you chewing our gum and making our babies cry as they drive back to college.