I’m going to get myself into hot water on this one.
I have been in Shanghai for close to six weeks now. In that time we have moved into permanent housing, the children have started school, and I have begun the work of settling into our villa.
In the beginning, all was new and exciting. The boys were getting ready to start Kindergarten, and we were going to move into our new home and neighborhood filled with children. With these events came the prospect of many new friends.
Day one of school came and went. The boys got a little more comfortable with the routine of it, and all seemed relatively well. They would each come home with stories about things they learned, things they loved, and things they didn’t like so much. I was particularly surprised by how often they talked about other kids being unkind to them. I figured 1 of 3 things was happening. 1- My children were annoying others and getting push-back (very likely); 2- my kids were being far too sensitive to the way others treated them; or 3- kids in the international schools were a little tougher to navigate for one reason or another. I imagine there was and is a healthy mix of all of the above going on. So I have been listening and observing and trying to guide them to be good friends in their own lives, to ask first what they might be doing to contribute to the conflict, to speak up for themselves; and to ultimately shake off the way others treat them.
More recently, however, I have shifted from silent observer to aggravated mother. I see the way some of the children here act, and I find it sad if not outright appalling at times. I try to keep in mind that troubled children have trouble for good reasons and that I do not know what battles they are fighting through. My kids are socially weird for a variety of reasons. I can acknowledge that and trust the process of socializing with others to work out their rough edges.
It’s the mean and unkind that I can’t understand. I have to think that if children are mean- just flat out mean- it has to do with parenting or lack thereof. I am not trying to get on any soapbox here either. My failings as a parent are vast. My kids are bad at sharing and taking turns and following directions. They talk over people, like potty talk way too much, and have no desire to exhibit self-control. They are not the quietest or the most well- behaved.
In spite of all of these aggravating behaviors- they really love life and people. They like to meet other children. They are excited about what pants they are wearing, if their shoes light up, the horn on their bike, and loads of other little silly things. I realize that as much as I focus on the misbehavior that drives me insane; and on their tendency to do exactly what I don’t want them to do- the most important thing I can focus on is their heart.
I will take kindness over all the other behavior stuff any day. In the long run- these kids will learn how to behave as society expects. They will eventually get the food in their mouths when they eat and sit at the table until they finish their meals. Some day they will stop pulling their pants down at the drop of a hat. And sooner than later (I hope) they will stop introducing themselves as “Hi- my name is butt” in Chinese.
The world that surrounds our children will not shape their hearts well. It will not honor and care for their innocence or sense of wonder. This may be one of the more heartbreaking realizations I have had as a mother. I’m realizing; indeed realizing that if I spend my time and energy focusing on behavior over heart- I am not making the contribution to society that I want to make. When I as a parent focus my time and energy(the little that I have) on symptoms (behavior)- I miss the greater opportunity and impact that I can have on others and the world.
Everyone is talking about bullying these days. We all want to stop bullying. So let’s start in our homes. We have to recognize that we are shaping humans here, and as much as we want to say they are their own little people- let’s not fall prey to this notion that we have no influence. We can shape them into individuals who embrace or push away; who seek justice and clothe the poor or feed their own bellies in pursuit of their passions. We can raise children who look out for those falling behind and who notice the lonely kid in the corner, or we can raise kids who run past others without an ounce of thought.
It’s our choice. We do have a say. And today, I’m choosing kindness above all else.