The Sweet Sounds of Kindness

Renee Sommer, illustrated by Serena Wagner

Not everyone is born with sugar plum sweetness in her heart. Well, maybe we are but over time the world beats it out of us. Either way, I’d say my journey to kindness didn’t come until my 30s, and I learn more and more about it every day. 

You see, somewhere along the line I began to equate kindness with weakness. I thought it showed vulnerability that as a driven woman I couldn’t afford to reveal. I wrapped my heart in a stony encasement and I scratched and I clawed and fought my way to the things I wanted. I ended up in a career that made me good money but that I hated. The higher I got, the less kind I became.

But then I was thrown a curve ball and my descent (or rise!) into kindness began.

As our family grew together, I began to outgrow the selfishness of youth I wore like armor. Being cold no longer seemed rewarding. I didn’t need to protect myself anymore; I needed to protect us.

I fell in love with this amazing guy who had this equally amazing kid. Before I knew it, we were all wrapped up in this family together, and I found myself in the role of stepmom. Suddenly I was contributing to the happiness and future of a little boy. It wasn’t just about me anymore. It was about us.

As our family grew together, I began to outgrow the selfishness of youth I wore like armor. Being cold no longer seemed rewarding. I didn’t need to protect myself anymore; I needed to protect us.

Navigating parenthood in a blended family has taught me a level of humility and vulnerability I’d never thought I was capable of feeling. It is beautiful and sweet and super scary.

Before long, staying in a career that made me both unhappy and generally unkind seemed ridiculous. And with the support and love of my family, I walked away from it. I found myself scrambling to find my identity because I’d so often equated my worth with my paycheck. I thought who I am has more to do with my job title than how I treated other people.

And as I struggled to tread water in uncharted territory, I fell into a position that forced me to take a really hard look around the Chippewa Valley. I’m a transplant here, and I never really put much thought into the people or culture. I’d always been more concerned with the Valley’s job opportunities and potential for business growth.

But then I began meeting people who volunteered their time and skills to children in our area. I saw countless teachers and parents who poured their heart and soul into making things better for all children, not just their own. These people were tireless. They were compassionate. And they were really, really nice.

All of a sudden I was volunteering my time, too. Last fall, my husband and I created a program for kids centered on learning and teamwork. We encourage the children to build each other up, to honor our community members, and to just be kind.

But most importantly, I have found a softness in parenting that I wasn’t entirely ready for. Having my hands in the upbringing of a child wasn’t something I’d thought was in my cards, but I quickly found myself completely immersed in this beautiful role. I was, and am, so very vulnerable because of the trust, love, and frailty of this kid. His happiness is my happiness. But more significantly, his pain is my pain.

I can’t be entirely sure when it happened, but somewhere during all of this I learned an incredibly vital lesson: Kindness is strength. It takes far more muscle to extend a hand and pull someone else up than it does to turn your back on them. There’s great power in vulnerability and when we give ourselves to service, when we protect those who cannot protect themselves, and when we show kindness in place of cynicism, we find ourselves a part of something greater than ourselves.

And while I firmly believe that as parents we have to remember that we’re raising the next generation of adults, I don’t believe we have to be jerks to do it. You can be firm without being mean. You can teach lessons without cruelty. You can change a kid’s entire day around with a hug and a gentle smile. Their happiness is your happiness, and their pain your pain. 

Now imagine if we took the parenting mantra of kindness and applied it to our community. Its happiness is our happiness, its pain our pain. How differently would we treat our neighbors, our teachers, our organizations, and small businesses?

So while we’re maybe not all born big balls of kindness and love, we all certainly have the capacity for it. And if we look for opportunities to be kind, there will be no greater benefactor than our kids and our community. 

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