Is it right to be kind?

Or is it kind to be right?

A dilemma

When we think of ‘Mother’ we can be drawn to an expectation of ‘kindness’ – it is as if ‘being kind’ should be one of the core skills on any job description for a mother. But another expectation that mothers have on themselves is to “get it right”.

I love the expression attributed to Wayne Dyer, “When you have a choice between being right and being kind – choose kind.”

We all have experiences of mothers being less than kind. Quite often in doing this they are trying to prove that they are right. “I told you so!” “You never…”, “You should…”, “You must…”, “You ought to …”

So often these ‘unkind’, but ‘right’ statements are ingrained in the parent – who has a voice in their own head full of oughts, shoulds and musts, trying to steer themselves in an attempt to be a perfect parent.

There has been a law passed this month in Scotland that makes smacking illegal. This is a law that is most probably ‘Right’ but is it actually ‘Kind’?

I have to admit here that I have smacked my children when they were small. I say it here, but that doesn’t mean that I am proud of it. I grew up in a world where ‘caning’ in schools was accepted and teachers threw blackboard rubbers at kids who weren’t paying attention. “Spare the rod and spoil the child” was an ageing but recognised concept. So why did I smack my kids? – I really cannot remember any specific events – but I’m pretty sure that I ‘tapped’ the little hand that kept moving towards something hot or otherwise dangerous. I also know that I did smack the occasional bottom as a sudden reaction to a feeling of overwhelm when I really had no access to my own (or their) possibility of reasoning. The result of this smack was to stop both me and my child in our tracks. The shock somehow stopped the spiralling of emotions and we were brought up short, that moment quickly enabled us both to change to another (usually better) course of action.

I cannot justify my actions and given a choice I would never smack anyone. I did however have an ongoing dialogue in my own head – with a huge pressure to be a great mum with happy children.

The thing is, with most smacking, shouting or swearing at, it happens at a time when we are in a state of fight and flight. In this state we have little or no access to our ‘thinking’ brain. We react rather than respond to a situation or a behaviour. When parents are overwhelmed, unsupported and exhausted, they are in serious danger of over-reacting.

But let us remember the African proverb – “It takes two people to make a child, but it takes a village to raise a child”. I believe it also takes a village to raise a parent. When kindness is shown to parents, when they feel connected to others, supported and relaxed they will be able to respond to their children rather than react. Think – responsibility is the ability to respond.

Parents will be able to be more kind to their children if they experience kindness from others and are able to be kind to themselves.

I try my best in all my relationships to remember that I nearly always have a choice between being right and being kind. That certainly doesn’t mean I always agree with others or that I will never make it clear when I am right. It isn’t kind to let small children stay up till all hours every night, eat whatever they like, whenever they like, and cuddle the cat until it can’t breathe. But getting angry with people to prove your ‘rightness’ is kind to no-one, especially yourself.

Maybe the key word in the sentence “When given the choice between being right and being kind” is neither right nor kind – but actually the word ‘choice’. The art is in remembering that we do have a choice. When we feel we have no choice and we cannot control our world we feel overwhelmed, frustrated and fearful.

Criminalising parents for smacking their children is a controversial idea. I am not sure what the punishment will be. Fines will take money away from families, prison sentences will take parents away from children. If I had been arrested for smacking my children, yes, I would have felt guilty – but also, I would have felt real shame. I’m not sure that that would have made me a better mother, and I’m pretty sure that it would not have made my children happier.

Wouldn’t it be great to foster kindness instead of legislating against unkindness?

Maybe today take a moment to offer a random act of kindness to a mum you know.

Let me know what you do – but don’t forget to be kind to yourself.


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