Do You Know What You Need? Are You Willing to Tell Others?

WHAT DO YOU NEED-

A close friend of mine was dealing with complications from  a chronic illness and one of the first things that came out of my mouth when I heard the news was, “What do you need?” Depending on the day, his answers would vary from a slice of gourmet pizza to fresh vegetables to a simple six pack of tomato juice.

He is amazing. And not because he loves gourmet pizza (well, maybe a little because he loves gourmet pizza), but moreso because he can identify and communicate what he needs so easily.

And just like anytime someone we know can do something better than we can, we get a little bummed. That is until we start the self-help rituals or therapy, whichever comes first.

As I think about it, I’m not sure where this particular personality trait came from, but I know it is frustrating to my friends and family.  A first years ago though, I discovered that if I couldn’t tell people what I needed, they would decide it for me, and the only child in me did NOT like being told what I need.

Enter 2016, my love of TED talks,  and the word vulnerable. After reading two of Brene Brown’s books and studying the concept of vulnerability more, I found that I had some work to do — on myself. I used what I studied and learned to admit some things to myself and others.

My name is Toni. For the past 25 years of my life, I have never been able to tell someone what I need from a relationship. Not my friends. Not my boyfriends. Not my ex-husband. No one.

I have never communicated my needs in a relationship to anyone.

My name is Toni. If you are going to be my friend, I need your support and kindness. I’d like to know that you really want the world to be a better place. I need you to understand that yes I am an extrovert, but when tempered with my only-child nature and LOUD three children, sometimes I absolutely need solace. I need you to know that between essential oils, Google, Shonda Rhimes, channeling my friends who are doctors, and all the medical advice I have ever received for every illness I’ve had, I am the expert on most medical conditions.

To know me, to really know me and love me means you know that the only thing I think I have done right in this world is parent those kids to absolute best of my ability. I need your reinforcement and smiles and hugs for fuel.

Don’t ask me not to be connected to technology. Don’t tell me I’m addicted to my phone. My phone, my computer, and yes, even my tv are important to when, how, and what I write. Yes, writing is how I eat, but it is also how I express my best self. Next to prayer and meditation, it soothes my soul.

this is the time when you must tell people what you need. Anything less than that is unacceptable.

To Jay. (Not his real name. Most definitely NOT his real name.) You are probably one of the few people in the world that I know is smarter than me. While I live for information gathering, politics, and the news. I need to feel that our love thrives on mutual respect, admiration, and affection for one another. I need you to tell me what I mean to you in clear terms. If you can’t do that, or won’t do that – then we can’t be anything more than two people who’ve known each other for a really long time.

To Carl. (He’d sue me if I used his name.) When you told me you loved me, I needed you to honor that sentence. I needed you to stop being passive aggressive and doing one action, that was really a reaction, because you don’t like the way I did whatever. Just tell me, or better yet? Do it so I can see what you are talking about.

To David. (You guessed it. Not his real name). Fidelity is important to me. I needed to know that our lives are shared with each other only. I know that in some cultures polygamy and sister-relationships are the norm. Not with me. 

To Kyle: (Nope. It’s safe to say that I’m not using real names here at all). I needed you to stop trying to fix things for me and use all of that energy to find solutions to the problems in your life.

To Me. I need you to stop being so critical with every mistake I make. I need you to eat at least 10 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. I need you not to feel guilty when you do something nice for yourself. And Toni, this is the time when you must tell people what you need. Anything less than that is unacceptable.

Kindness Begins at Home

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You is kind.

You is kind.

Dare I say it again? You. Is. Kind.

This is one of my favorite lines from the book The Help. I love everything about those words, and the accompanying words in the novel of You is Smart and You is Important. Everyone needs to to remember that about themselves daily.

Unless…you aren’t really.

I am not an expert on intelligence and importance in the world, so I don’t feel really qualified to give an indicator of where someone else stands on the scale. Because of that, I’ll let anyone who wants to be smart and important have it. You is smart. You is important.

But truthfully,  you is not always kind.

I see it, your friends see it, your teachers see it and experience it probably worse than others. And your siblings….

If asked, could your siblings say you is kind? Is kindness a word the people you share a bathroom with would use to describe you?

As my friend Gillian says when she wants me to dig deeper about my fears, let’s unpack this a bit further.

My kids are very close in age. I don’t think there is a time they remember not having siblings. As the youngest, Jada obviously wouldn’t remember it but when asked, the older two don’t remember the single life (or the twosome life) either.

According to the kids, I am out of touch with sibling dynamics. Or as they say it, sibling code. Because apparently my children believe they can say anything to one another, no matter how rude, insensitive, or inappropriate it is, and its okay because they are siblings. As an only child, that was not my experience.

When they were little, the arguments over toys were expected. I could even mediate the “she said she’s your favorite” discussions. But at the ages of 12, 14, and 15, when the scowling and expressions behind my back resemble that of a fight scene from West Side Story, I have to draw the line. They know better.

And this is what I preach and live and fuss and study and preach some more about every day. I’ve demonstrated kindness, I’ve taken advantage of opportunities to allow the children to see me being kind to others and I’ve talked about why kindness matters until I’m blue in the face. We even have a list displayed on the refrigerator of possible random acts of kindness that we could all do for people to make a bigger impact on the world.

However, I’ve found that buying the person’s drink in the Starbuck’s drive through  line behind me means nothing if I’m treating the people I say I love like crap.

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Last year my phrase was People Over Things. As I can’t seem to remember how that came to be my phrase, I can remember that I wanted to perform more intentional acts of love to the people I love the most. If you need a refresher, I blogged about it here and here.

And this year for Valentine’s Day, I gave each of the kids a set a cards they could hold on to over the next 10-12 months as a reminder of how much I love them. I did this because, well, I’m teaching kindness.

Or so I thought.

Last fall, as a family we committed to performing Random Acts of Kindness. The agreement was that all four of us would do them as often as we could. One of us even wrote a speech about performing Random Acts of Kindness for a school project. That speech won all kinds of praise from teachers and classmates and from me as a proud mom.

When we arrived home from school the very day of the kindness speech, no less than hour after telling the world (or the whole middle school) that we are kind, something no-so-kind happened. The angelic  child who was so full of sharing kindness with the world stuck a middle finger up at one sibling and told the other sibling to go to hell not even five minutes later. The reason? Oh, it’s because they were all in the hallway at the same time.

Who does that?

As I witnessed that exchange I realized that I needed to become a participant observer of the habits that occur daily  in my house. (Shout out to the sociology classes I took in college.) Y’all, it didn’t get better. It was not an isolated circumstance. I was shocked.

My kids are not kind.

I realized that as a parent my shift and my focus on this whole kindness thing needed to change. Since we’re being honest here, I’m sharing my story, but it’s very possible that yours might need to change as well.

Please, stop teaching your children to perform Random Acts of Kindness. Instead, teach them this:

  1. Kindness begins at home. I cannot teach my children to be kind to others if we are not kind daily to one another. We have to live kindness in order to be kind.
  2. Kindness is intentional. Each day I have to remind myself to be kind. It’s a must. If I don’t do it, well, in the midst of laundry and dinner and after-school tutoring and life it’s easy to forget.
  3. Kindness makes life better for someone else. My kids like to say, “Well I moved the chair for you. Isn’t that enough?” The answer my friends, is “No, it isn’t enough if the chair wasn’t in my way.” Sometimes we think are performing a service or an act because we think it will help a situation. The truth is, it doesn’t always. If your act of kindness doesn’t make like better for someone, it’s null and void.
  4. Kindness means you are not the center of attention. The intent on being kind is to move the focus to the person receiving the act. It’s not about you.
  5. Kindness may mean you are temporarily uncomfortable so someone else can be comfortable. Yep.
  6. Kindness is issuing a sincere apology. You know that children learn very early in life to apologize when they do something wrong. Guess what? We’ve taught them to say sorry almost instinctively, without really thinking about actions and consequences. “Sure I told the guy you have a crush on that you serenade him every night in the shower. Sorry.”
  7. Kindness is asking to borrow something and returning it timely. For me, this one is pure karma. When I became a teenager, I discovered the wonderment of my mother’s closet and jewelry box. She maintained I could borrow anything I wanted but I needed to 1. Ask first, and 2. Return the item once I finished. I didn’t do any of those. I now have two daughters who have created second homes in my closet. You can have access to my carefully-procured collection of Converse shoes if you follow the two basic rules of ask and return.
  8. Kindness is saying please and thank you. All the time.
  9. Kindness is not violent, and does not threaten violence. That is just not acceptable.
  10. Kindness is doing your chores the right way the first time so the next person doesn’t get stuck with your crap. Namely, your mother.

Kindness says, “I’m glad the universe put us together at this time and in this space.”

And if I could be just a bit more candid here, let’s start practicing these ourselves as adults. It’s not only the children that need to be taught about kindness. I’m just saying.