Years ago, when my sons were young, they were excited for a play date. We drove to get the friend, but when we got there the boy said, “I changed my mind, I don’t want to go.” He wasn’t upset or worried. He just wanted to do something else.
The mom shrugged with a half apologetic smile, and that was that, he wasn’t going. My children were devastated. They had been looking so forward to the play date. I was shocked. When my children made a commitment, they kept it, because I knew it was hurtful to break commitments. This mom let her son know that what he wanted and his happiness were more important than being thoughtful and kind.
Children in our socity have learned that lesson. Happiness is more important than kindness and so is personal achievement. When the Making Caring Common Project, a program at Harvard, surveyed 10,000 youth, 80 percent said achievement and happiness were their life priorities. Only 20 percent said being caring was a priority.
Meanwhile, in another study, 96 percent of all parents said their children’s moral character was a “very important, if not essential.” However, that is not what the youth thought. Eighty-one percent said happiness or achievement was their parent’s top priority for them. Most said that their parents would be prouder of them if they got good grades than if they did something good in their community.
For Unitarian Universalists empathy and kindness ground our faith. However, it can be easy for any parentsto get caught up in the cultural ideals of personal happiness and achievement.
The Making Caring Common project reminds us that our children learn what we teach.
If we tell our children caring matters, model kind behavior, and help our children practice caring, they will become more compassionate and kind.
So instead of saying to our kids, “the most important thing is for you to be happy,” we say, “the most important things are for you to be happy and kind to others.”
When we help our children make decisions, we remind them to consider the impacts of those decisions on others. When they want to leave the band or sports team, we ask how that will affect others who are counting on them. When they don’t want to go to church or a family event, we remind them being in a community is not just about their own enjoyment, but about the ways their presence matters to others.
We act as role models. We are compassionate and kind toward people. We offer service to those in need.
We ask our children not only “how was your day?” and “what did you learn?” but also, “what did you do that was kind?”
We share this earth with many people. Everyone has a responsibility to treat others with care. My hope is that our church community offers us all hundreds of opportunities to practice that art.
- Mary, Joseph and Jesus were refugees - November 28, 2015
- Raising kids to be kind - October 21, 2015
- The holiday seasons’ Land of Expectations - December 1, 2014
- Experience is relative - November 5, 2014
- In memory of Lorissa Green: Seeking meaning in the flux - June 11, 2014
- Generosity as a spiritual practice - May 2, 2014