Have you ever thought that we have failed our children by teaching them to be nice? Or..failed ourselves?
How many times do we say to our children, 'Be nice!" ? Even when being nice may not have been the appropriate thing to be. Countless moments come to mind. When they were little, we would venture off to play dates and my kids were most always the passive kids. They had their moments but they weren't the ones climbing to dangerous heights, emptying the kitchen cabinets, taking off their diaper and a few other difficult play date encounters.
Many times, I saw my kids get scolded by other parents for 'not being nice' when clearly, their kid started a hitting match with mine. Always...I would chime in, "Yes, be nice please." and depending on their age, shoot them the look...you know that look all moms have when it's our own agenda of pleasing our friends that matters most.
I fed my kids a steady diet of Be nice-es...
Just be nice
Let it go
Don't make a scene
It's okay, they were just having a bad day
Be kind to everyone
Don't act like that
No one wants to hear you whine and complain
Just ignore it
You should like everyone
Basically, I trained them to be doormats. I taught them that life isn't fair but no matter what, be nice. be good, be happy, be kind...be anything or anyone but yourself. I mean really...that's what it amounted to. "You're having a sad day? Chin up! Everyone has something hard today, you don't have the corner on the hard market." And, I dismissed their feelings with such a nice sentiment.
It seemed like the right thing to do. The admirable thing but it taught them that feelings that didn't reflect kindness and nice- always, were inferior- they were inferior.
How many times did one of my kids have a friend who was dragging them into their very dangerous behaviors but my kid was afraid to say 'No' at the risk of not being "Nice.". After-all you need to be nice to everyone.
Last week, Shelbie had a date with a person she had met online. The closer the time came for her to leave, the sicker I felt about it. Something wasn't adding up. She had been at her friend's apartment waiting to leave but the young man had delayed their date a bit. Shelbie knew nothing about this guy except for a few text messages back and forth. He was here from Helena, MT and their plan was to attend a movie and then go for ice cream.
I went to her friend's apartment and waited until he got back to her. Things got strange very quickly and there on the living room floor of this small apartment, with 6 other young women in the room, Shelbie had a meltdown. Clearly, this young man had other intentions. In fact, I doubt he had ever planned to go to a movie. Shelbie was so afraid to tell him that she had changed her mind and didn't want to meet him. She was almost paralyzed at the idea of telling him that; it wasn't nice. She had already promised to go out, he would hate her, she couldn't let him down, maybe he's not so bad, maybe she can convince him to go to another movie.
She wasn't the only one grappling with this decision. All but one of the girls were trying to figure out a way to tell him gently to get lost. They too were concerned about being nice. Shelbie tried all different versions of 'No'. No with smiley faces, no with winky faces, no with a maybe attached... In the end, she cut him loose but he hounded her until nearly midnight and yes, he was extremely mad.
While we sat there, I remembered back to not very many years ago when I was being stalked. I went to the police and they wanted me to charge the man with trespassing and get a restraining order. I wouldn't do it. I said, "Well, that isn't very nice. He'll be mad that I came to you and then he will come after me."
The police officer said, "Yes, he will be mad and he may come after you but he's after you as it is." I will never forget his words...people get mad when you aren't 'nice' to them.
I eventually did get a restraining order but it took months of living in fear before I did that. When he was served, he did come after me in a parking lot and I did think twice about the risk you run to stand up to people.
There were many lessons learned that night but for me, I feel bad that I didn't teach my kids their own value and boundaries. I am only learning these things myself. It may be a little late but maybe there is still time. I think girls have a harder time than boys.
The world is a different place than it was two decades ago when play dates ruled the day. People are different; many are self absorbed, entitled, egotistical, even narcissistic. People like that get ahead by stepping on the innocence, trust, caring and yes, even kindness of people like me or you, our kids. We dismiss their poor behavior with nice statements like, "Well, they were probably just having a bad day." "I'm sure they didn't mean it." "You should be nice anyways." In reality, it's not okay to be mistreated all in the name of a bad day.
I think there are ways to be nice but still maintain yourself, your boundaries and self respect. I didn't always manage to teach my kids that part of the equation. Now, with society blurring the edges of what has always been acceptable, like the whole bathroom issues, we are challenged even more to stand up for ourselves, our safety, our beliefs...the theory of 'nice' has to evolve. We can't live a blurry life of standards right alongside the world. That doesn't mean we have to stand up and stand out, but at least we need to know for ourselves, what we stand for.
Now, I find myself retraining my kids, my daughter especially. I think I corrected a lot of my wayward training with Sam and Spencer fell somewhere in between. Maybe instead of teaching our kids to be nice, we teach them to be honest, authentic, humble, courageous, charitable, loving, brave, confident, secure...all the things we think we are teaching when we say, be nice. If I could do it over again, when the little friend at play group stole a toy from my child and then proceeded to whack my kid over the head with the toy, I would have taught them that that wasn't okay and given them some tools to correct the conflict without being mean back or shaming or condescending.
It's never too late I suppose. Being nice is starting to feel like a bad epidemic today. It's not safe to be anything but nice, agreeable, small...and that is really a sad thing, not nice at all.