Can You Be Genuine and Kind?

I am in a funk this week, and not in a Bruno Mars Uptown kind of way.

I am stressed at things beyond my control — stuff in the grand scheme of life means extraordinarily little, but at this moment, I am agonizing over it. My mind tells me to keep perspective, but my heart races with the anxiety of the unknown. Insecurity seeps out of my pores and self-doubt runs rampant over every decision.

I am a balloon on the verge of bursting. If one more person blows hot air in my direction, I will explode into a million pieces.

Because of these feelings, I know I am more sensitive to criticism, even from sources not directed at me. I take every look, comment, or even lack of acknowledgment personally.

I am aware, yet it is difficult to control.

This weekend, I read an article that discussed the lack of authenticity and being genuine in the parenting blogging space. It wasn’t my type of article. I’m not into name-calling or belittling other people for their life choices.

The blog post in of itself did not get under my skin. What did surprise me, however, was the visceral response to it. There were cheers from people who say that blogging as we know it is fraught with fraud and inauthentic dribble. Too many people are jumping up and down on the Internet saying “Look at me! Read me! Look at how great I am!”

Others stood up in defense of blogging and their work. And for the right of every person to pursue something they love, whatever the reason.

I wanted to fall apart. It was the last thing I needed to get involved with at the time but like driving by a car accident, I couldn’t look away.

On one hand, I understand the point. When it comes to social media, networking and engaging with readers and other bloggers is critical to your success. I am involved with several groups where bloggers come together to support each other. We “like” each other’s posts and share articles and leave comments so Facebook will show our work to more people. Sometimes these are things that I care about, sometimes not.

On the other hand, why should I promote material that doesn’t speak to me? Why should I give an audience to things that don’t touch my heart or evoke an emotion? Why do I support people whose work I don’t always love or interests me? Why do they support mine? Am I a fraud, too? Is it all for nothing?

So, as I sit at the crossroads of self-doubt and a nervous breakdown, I ask myself, what is the point of it all?

And that’s when I looked over at the Essential Oils vaporizer sitting on my nightstand. The one I can’t use because the oils give me hives and irritate my eyes. The one I will not put away because I bought it from my best friend who has transformed her life over the past few years, and I burst with pride when I think about it. And I would rather cut off my right arm than see her not succeed, so even though I don’t always buy into her holistic way of life, I want to support her.

It sits next to the “World’s Best Mom” figurine that my daughter gave me three years ago that she bought with her own money from her school’s holiday shop, which of course I told her I loved even though I despise trinkets.

Underneath it is an essay my friend asked me to read. She wants to publish a story that is close to her heart. We both know it’s not good, but we are working on improving it because she feels passionate about it. My red-lined comments are tempered and filled with “love this part!” and “great line!” because I don’t want her to quit. I believe with hard work and my help she can create something great.

I admit that sometimes I am not genuine or one hundred percent authentic; but if not, it’s because I am trying to be something else, something that is even more important to me. I want to be kind and supportive and help someone else follow their dreams, just as my friends have supported mine.

And I will never apologize for that.

Life riddles with insecurity. Sometimes we have thick skin and a rebellious nature that allows us to shed people’s opinions — or what we believe they think of us — with ease. For others, our hearts are wrapped in a weighted vest of self-doubt that often plays tricks on our minds.

We see it in moms that believe every missed event, every misplaced sock, every Lunchable packed is symbolic of failure. We see it in dads that view their kids’ athletic success as indicative of their self-worth. And we see it in bloggers so desperate for affirmation they forget the reason they started their blog in their first place.

But we all have choices in this life. For some of us our hearts speak so loudly that the only way to live life is only to be true to yourself.

And for others, we search for the delicate balance of finding ourselves while grabbing the hands of others along the way.

Maybe neither is wrong, but I’ll be the one with my arm stretched out.

Just let me know if you need my hand.

How to Raise “Includers”

The cars in the drop-off line moved exceedingly slow one cold morning, and I tried to keep my patience while silently chanting, “Pull forward!”

My daughters and I were almost to the exit spot when I watched two girls hop out of a minivan. In an instant, I saw a pack of Justice-clad tweens swarm one of the passengers while the other stood off to the side pulling her backpack onto tiny shoulders.

“Who are those girls?” I asked.

“They aren’t in my class, but they just really love each other, I guess. They are always hanging on to each other at recess,” one of my kids said.

“Are they nice?” I questioned, eager to hear what they thought.

“Yeah, they are really nice when you are around them. It’s just when they are in a group, they don’t pay much attention to anyone else. Pull up, Mom!” My daughter said this off-handedly, and I could tell she didn’t think much of it.

I watched the gaggle of girls walk up the sidewalk arm-in-arm while the other young student sidled slowly behind them, her head cast downwards.

I did not stop thinking about the incident for the remainder of the day. On one hand, those girls did not do anything wrong but excitedly greet a friend. On the other, they ruined another child’s morning without even trying — without even being aware.

The more I thought about it, the more upset I became.

Why is it so hard to raise nice kids? Kids who are kind, kids who are considerate, kids who include? How do we teach these impressionable minds to be aware of other people?

The answer is obvious. It comes from us. The parents.

How many times do you walk into a room, search out your friends and talk only to them?

Would you rather stick your nose in your iPhone than meet a new person?

How often do you see someone standing off to the side and do not go over and introduce yourself? Even offer a smile?

I’m guilty.

I get it. As an extrovert, I feed off the attention of others. But sometimes I am just tired, too damn tired to strike up a conversation and keep it going with someone I don’t know.

But then I think about that little girl. The one who no one was mean to, but yet was ignored. Not even a simple hello or a nod of acknowledgment. That could be your kid. It could be mine. It may be you, and I know it’s been me.

I am tired of hearing that girls are just mean.

I am exhausted from the excuses for exclusionary behavior.

I am sick of listening to parents saying their kids didn’t do anything. Because that is the problem. They didn’t do anything. We aren’t doing anything.

We are guilty, but too unaware to notice. Too busy to pick up on the signs.

It may be worse when your son or daughter is the bully and picks on other kids, but when we teach our children they can walk through life without noticing other people, without being aware of anyone else — well, we reap what we sow.

As parents, we do it all the time. We talk about avoiding the PTA because of the cliques while the members forget how to welcome new faces into the fray. We attend a moms’ group once and determine the quality of the women based on a single interaction. We take our kids to the park to encourage them to play with other children, yet we sit off by ourselves.

So, how do we make the change?

+ Teach your kids how to meet new people. Introduce yourself to strangers in front of your child. Show them how easy it is, even if it feels awkward. Practice it at home.

+ Create awareness. Point a child out to your son or daughter that is playing alone. Encourage her to ask the child to join in the activity. It’s so easy.

+Institute friend goals and share experiences. Set a family goal for each member to talk with someone they don’t know well each week. At dinner or another time you are all together, discuss what you learned about the new friend. Hold each person accountable for participating.

+ Watch for unintentional exclusionary behavior. This is the crux of the issue. As parents, we often write behavior off because we know it was not intended to be mean; but how are children supposed to learn if we don’t point it out?

I cringe when one of my children says, “I want to sit next to so-and-so” whenever we are at a gathering, as I know it makes other kids feel bad. I told my daughters that each time they create a stink about sitting next to a person, they are telling someone else that she doesn’t want to sit by them. After one particularly trying birthday party, we made a family rule that we feel grateful whenever we have a seat at the table, but during the event they may play with whomever they want (as long as they include everyone). It avoids a lot of drama caused by seat shuffling.

+ Be brave. The biggest fear most of us have for our children is that they will be ignored — on the playground, in the lunchroom, or at an event. So, we social engineer each activity to ensure they only go to places where they have a friend. But what are we really teaching them?

When we encourage our children to experience new activities by themselves, they develop compassion for others who may be in a similar situation down the road. I find the courage  comes with preparing my kids beforehand with conversation starters or a script to help them introduce themselves.

We don’t realize this as parents, but kids have an uncanny ability to make friends if we just get out of the way.

+ Model the person you want your child to become. We all know talk is cheap. If you want your child to be inclusive, be inclusive yourself. Lend a hand to someone you don’t know well. Keep your snarky comments to a minimum. Introduce yourself to the new neighbors. Talk to that mom or dad standing alone at pick up.

The worst thing that could happen is you may have to talk to a spitter for five minutes.

The best could be you made a very lonely person’s day.

It all starts with one brave parent.

Be brave today.

Dear World: My Heart is Big Enough

Something funny happens when you become a parent. The first time you look down into your child’s little eyes, you find it impossible to believe that you could love anything more than this bundle of joy. If you were like I was the first time around, you can’t even imagine that there is another person who loves her child more than you.

If and when you decide to expand your clan,  you worry about irrational notions, such as can I love another baby as much as I love my first one (or two in my case.) Is it even possible?

And then you look down into those little eyes, and you can almost feel your heart expanding in your chest. You breathe a sigh of relief. You realize: my heart is big enough.

This is the message I want to share with the world today, the world that is more filled with fear than it was yesterday. There is so much hurt and pain and sadness that we are starting to turn on each other — just when we need one another the most.

My heart is big enough.

This morning I woke up and saw photos of women standing in line hundreds of people deep, with eyes filled with pain and sadness. Some held limp, little bodies in their arms, babies whose wide eyes protrude out of small faces filled with fear. I want to help these women and their scared children who have walked miles trying to outrun terrorists who are determined to annihilate them with chemical weapons, bullets and other unimaginable horrors.

They’re fleeing from imprisonment, torture, rape, and death, willing to risk it all to cross an ocean or be smuggled over borders. I can’t imagine taking a chance that an over-crowded boat or an armed border crossing offers a better prospect at surviving than remaining in their home country. But for these people, it is a reality.

I care about them because I know as a mother I would do the same. I would risk it all to protect my children.

But because I care about these people who live half a world away from my safe home filled to the brim with food and clothes and stuff — the people I only see in pictures or on the news — does not mean I care less about other injustices, some of which I see with my own eyes.

My heart is big enough.

Because I care about the Syrian refugees does not mean I care less about the veterans we often cast aside after serving our country. Because I care about our veterans does not mean I care less about the children who go hungry in my own community. And because I care about  these children, it does not mean I care less about my friend who is hoping for a miracle cure for her cancer diagnosis.

My heart is big enough.

In this cold, dark world, bad things are happening so often that we are becoming jaded, almost immune, to the horror of it all. We need to stop getting angry at the people who care and be relieved that at least they are still feeling something, anything, at all.

Our personal experiences shape our beliefs, and our beliefs shape our actions.  My personal motivation for donating time and resources are often geared towards helping children, the innocents most impacted by the decisions of others. I care equally about the children of Syria as I do about the little hearts who live in my community.

There are too many injustices in this world, however, and as individuals we can’t fight them all. When we see friends dedicating their lives to supporting other issues, such as wounded warriors or international food banks or global environmental issues, important causes that may not be our own priorities or help those living in our own country, we need to ensure our hearts expand right in our chests in that moment, instead of closing it off bit by bit.

We cannot let ourselves become angry or bitter because we see someone trying to do their part.  A person is not a hypocrite for deciding to speak out or support a cause that motivates him to act. It is okay for different people to have certain burdens on their heart.

Because my heart is big enough to care about all the world’s problems, even when I am only talking about one. 

And I know yours is too.

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