How I wished I would have been a nice kid. Kindness and humility were neither natural nor modeled for me. I was scared shitless, constantly–with no healthy coping skills. I was terrified, literally out of my mind from a lack of knowing how to get along in the family and world. The lessons I took from my formative years about connection and belonging are tragic, at best. They taught me to be fearful as much of myself, as of others, all others, particularly those related to me, and whom I counted on. I devolved into one very sad, angry, punitive, controlling, scarY AF individual. It was not until becoming a mother, turning 40, filing for divorce, entering a program, that I began learning to examine and recover from my experience in my family of origin.
I cringe as I look back and reflect on how poorly I managed, 100% failure to cope and to thrive. Every single person and situation caused me anxiety(a way of being which seemed to enflame the family). I never, ever, felt safe or relaxed. Since entering into a program of recovery, dignity, self-esteem, courage, and sometimes serenity and faith replace fear, humiliation, guilt. Remaining in a state of that kind of fearfulness, drove behaviors that caused me difficulty and shame. How did I manage to never learn how to cope with difficult experiences and feelings—aka—all of my experiences and feelings? What I adopted as truth about myself and others was distorted beyond words. And now– the unlearning.
Since moving cross country, 3 years ago, a return to those who count on me to be too afraid and ashamed to live and express my personal truth and values, I have elected to minimize contact with most ALL others, while I lick my wounds, new and old. I thought they would be pounding me on the back for no longer reacting the way I always had. But it became clear, quickly, that my easily judgeable raging and decomposing, were preferred to the calmer, direct inquiries and statement of clear boundaries. I did amaze myself that an onslaught of abusive accusations, name calling, and shunning intended to reduce me, did not call me to tell them about themselves or to beg for better treatment. They presented two options, denial of/submission to unkindness or cold war. I chose a third way- offering repeatedly(too many times) to explore and mend the fractures and my willingness to wait in safety for their readiness and willingness. The reactions to those initiatives were jarring, the fact that much of it is in writing has been illuminating. Since my decomposition seems rooted in a myth that I caused or imagined unkindness and non-love, paving the way for my own abusive behaviors. My old thinking: It is acceptable diminish those that displease you and then blame and shame them for it. If you make them feel small enough, they may keep trying to please you and earn your good graces…not kindness, but an occasional respite from the non-kindness.
I cannot unlearn THIS fast enough. What I want for my children, more than anything is for them to assume wholesomeness, of themselves and others. To be able to experience non-goodness without internalizing it, judging it, or adopting it as a way to control and manage. For my sons to believe in their own virtue, no matter what others say, do, and feel—how can I teach them this before I, myself, fully know it? Thank god for the model of Sweet Greg, in our lives who unceasingly and naturally practices kindness, always. He is totally the nice kid. So wholesome.
For the past few years, I have relied heavily on Momastery to help me parent my children in the ways of kindness and courage, because these ways of being are still too new for me to model with any sort of consistency. Below is a letter I will read to my sons, before sending them to sleep away camp, next week. Connection and inclusion are values I hope they will choose to exercise rather than be in charge of. Praying: Please be connectors and includers… please.
Tomorrow is a big day. Third Grade – wow.
Chase – When I was in third grade, there was a little boy in my class named Adam.
Adam looked a little different and he wore funny clothes and sometimes he even smelled a little bit. Adam didn’t smile. He hung his head low and he never looked at anyone at all. Adam never did his homework. I don’t think his parents reminded him like yours do. The other kids teased Adam a lot. Whenever they did, his head hung lower and lower and lower. I never teased him, but I never told the other kids to stop, either.
And I never talked to Adam, not once. I never invited him to sit next to me at lunch, or to play with me at recess. Instead, he sat and played by himself. He must have been very lonely.
I still think about Adam every day. I wonder if Adam remembers me? Probably not. I bet if I’d asked him to play, just once, he’d still remember me.
I think that God puts people in our lives as gifts to us. The children in your class this year, they are some of God’s gifts to you.
So please treat each one like a gift from God. Every single one.
Baby, if you see a child being left out, or hurt, or teased, a little part of your heart will hurt a little. Your daddy and I want you to trust that heart- ache. Your whole life, we want you to notice and trust your heart-ache. That heart ache is called compassion, and it is God’s signal to you to do something. It is God saying, Chase! Wake up! One of my babies is hurting! Do something to help! Whenever you feel compassion – be thrilled! It means God is speaking to you, and that is magic. It means He trusts you and needs you.
Sometimes the magic of compassion will make you step into the middle of a bad situation right away.
Compassion might lead you to tell a teaser to stop it and then ask the teased kid to play. You might invite a left-out kid to sit next to you at lunch. You might choose a kid for your team first who usually gets chosen last. These things will be hard to do, but you can do hard things.
Sometimes you will feel compassion but you won’t step in right away. That’s okay, too. You might choose instead to tell your teacher and then tell us. We are on your team – we are on your whole class’ team. Asking for help for someone who is hurting is not tattling, it is doing the right thing. If someone in your class needs help, please tell me, baby. We will make a plan to help together.
When God speaks to you by making your heart hurt for another, by giving you compassion, just do something. Please do not ignore God whispering to you. I so wish I had not ignored God when He spoke to me about Adam. I remember Him trying, I remember feeling compassion, but I chose fear over compassion. I wish I hadn’t. Adam could have used a friend and I could have, too.
Chase – We do not care if you are the smartest or fastest or coolest or funniest. There will be lots of contests at school, and we don’t care if you win a single one of them. We don’t care if you get straight As. We don’t care if the girls think you’re cute or whether you’re picked first or last for kickball at recess. We don’t care if you are your teacher’s favorite or not. We don’t care if you have the best clothes or most Pokemon cards or coolest gadgets. We just don’t care.
We don’t send you to school to become the best at anything at all. We already love you as much as we possibly could. You do not have to earn our love or pride and you can’t lose it. That’s done.
We send you to school to practice being brave and kind.
Kind people are brave people. Because brave is not a feeling that you should wait for. It is a decision. It is a decision that compassion is more important than fear, than fitting in, than following the crowd.
Trust me, baby, it is. It is more important.
Don’t try to be the best this year, honey.
Just be grateful and kind and brave. That’s all you ever need to be.
Take care of those classmates of yours, and your teacher, too. You Belong to Each Other. You are one lucky boy . . . with all of these new gifts to unwrap this year.
I love you so much that my heart might explode.
Enjoy and cherish your gifts.
And thank you for being my favorite gift of all time.
***Each year people ask my permission to substitute their child’s name for Chase’s and read this letter together the night before school begins. YES. Others ask if they might change the word God to their family’s name for love and read it that way. OF COURSE. This letter belongs to all of us. I’d be honored if you took it and made it work for your family. Heck, tell ’em you wrote it. I’m always picking up pre-made grocery buffet food, throwing it into a casserole dish, placing it triumphantly on the table and then stepping back and smiling as humbly as possible in the wake of such triumph. Same/Same. Love, G
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