Recently, someone told me once again that I am “too nice.”
It really pissed me off.
I haven’t been told that for a while. When this person made the comment, I remembered how this is such a trigger for me. I’ve been told my whole life that I’m too nice. And it’s not meant as a compliment. Nope, it’s an insult. An insult disguised with words that, taken by themselves, should be good. An insult designed to weave around me and stab me from in the back, where I don’t see it coming and I’m weak and can’t protect myself. An insult that the person can easily laugh off, saying I’m too sensitive, I’m taking it the wrong way. But trust me, I know the difference between a compliment and an insult.
Too nice. First of all, when has there ever been too much kindness in this world? And second, why is kindness something someone should feel badly for?
The school I drive by every day has a sign that tells of important dates, things to remember, etc. This past few weeks, there has been a message on this sign. It says,
Amen to that. Kindness does matter. This school sign has been a personal validation for me. Sometimes I arrange the route I’m driving so I can drive by the school and see that sign that I’m sure was meant just for me. To encourage me, support me, lift me up. Kindness matters.
I recently read an article on Facebook about what makes a marriage last, happily. Guess what! It’s kindness! Scientists have shown that if a couple is kind to each other, their marriage will last. If a couple responds to each other with kindness, they will maintain a happy, successful marriage. I can testify to that. Alex and I have never been a fighting, nagging couple. Sure, we have our differences. Sometimes in moments of overwhelm and extreme stress, we snap at each other. We don’t agree on everything. But overall, we treat each other with respect and, most importantly, kindness. We’ve been together for 22 years, and we’re still crazy about each other, so we must be doing something right.
There is a difference between letting people take advantage of you because you’re too wimpy (aka “nice”) to stand up for yourself, and spreading kindness every chance you get. I can be nice and still stick up for myself, set boundaries, and not be used by people who like to take advantage of us Nicies. But I don’t have to be rude, obnoxious, or mean to get my point across. I can be nice and still be effective.
The person who called me “too nice” most recently was referring to the fact that I probably do too much for my kids. She was saying that to some degree, I enable them. I agree with this, in some ways. There are times when I will put a boy’s socks on his feet for him rather than have that be the thing that pushes him over the edge into Rage right before getting on the bus for school in the morning. On occasion, I have been known to feed my child, who can absolutely feed herself, because she is so distracted that she can’t focus on eating and her stomach hurts and she is an emotional mess because she is so hungry. I’m ok with that. I’m ok with doing what works for my kids.
A friend and I were talking about this once. We marveled over the fact that both of us have children who have a finite amount of patience for the world. They work extremely hard to hold everything together, and sometimes the world asks too much of them and they can’t take it and they explode. Maybe they explode because they can’t find the “right” breakfast. Maybe putting their socks on is too much. Maybe having to do homework is too overwhelming. Maybe brushing their teeth just can’t be done. Maybe they can’t get things into their backpack easily and things spill everywhere. Maybe they have a hangnail that makes them feel like their entire arm is being ripped from the socket.
Whatever it is, my friend and I were so happy to know that we’re not alone in our approach to our kids and their limited patience. We do what works. We would rather have our kids save their “hold-it-together-ness” for the bus. Or that math test. Or the teacher who says they aren’t trying hard enough. Or the lunch line where a kid bumps into them. Or the fact that their socks bunch around their toes funny and bug them all day. Or that their glasses have permanent indentations on them because the dogs chewed on them, again, and we can’t afford to buy yet another pair of glasses just because there are little spots on the lenses from dog teeth. Or the fact that it’s too cold in the classroom and they forgot their sweatshirt and now they can’t concentrate because all they can think about is being too cold. Or that the winter wind makes their little lips dry so they have to lick them and then it becomes a tic and they can’t stop so they lick them until they’re raw and every type of chapstick Mom buys hurts or doesn’t feel right and they can’t stop licking them even though it hurts and they know they shouldn’t lick anymore…
I’m ok with doing what works for my kids. I encourage and celebrate independence, of course. But I also understand my kids, and how they work so hard to function. I’m ok with being nice to them so that Home is one soft place they can fall in the world.
I do know I tend to be a little bit more on the enabler side of things. I also know, thanks to much therapy of my own, that this is due in part to the fact that all my babies were born too early, too fragile, too weak, and medically unstable.
When you are faced with death at the beginning of a brand new life, it scares the pants off you. You’re never the same. You wait and watch for any sign that things may be going wrong again. You hold your breath for all the years that follow, and wait for the next trauma to happen. You return to the NICU day after day after day, aching to hold your sweet babies next to your skin, to smell their tiny heads and marvel at their unbelievably small legs that your wedding ring can encompass. You return, day after day, terrified to find out what horrible thing happened during the night while you were away.
What next? Infection? Brain bleeds? Illness? Losing precious weight? Not feeding correctly? Not breathing while they eat? Heart stopping? Jaundice? Blindness? Intestines not working right? Spinal taps? RSV? Not maintaining their own body temperature? Failed hearing tests?
You feel guilty for going home without your babies. You feel guilty for sleeping. You feel guilty for being tired after an endless day at the NICU, sitting, waiting, willing your babies to breathe. You feel so guilty for being healthy while your babies are so sick. So much guilt.
Then you finally get to bring your fragile little ones home, and you’re deeply relieved because this is what you’ve been waiting for, for months. And then reality sets in and you realize your round the clock nurses are gone and you are responsible to keep these tiny babies alive. By yourself. After living with such intense, constant, complete terror and dread for weeks and months, wondering if your babies will still be alive when you return to the hospital each day, calling every night at 10pm to find out how many poops your babies had and how many ounces they gained and if they had a bath and if they had a fever and if they’re still alive, you are the one who has to keep your baby alive. It’s all up to you. You check your teensy little babies, wrapped in cords from apnea monitors, as they lay in their cribs and make sure they’re still breathing. You make sure they take their caffeine every day to keep their hearts pumping blood the way they’re supposed to. You watch tensely every time you feed them to make sure they don’t forget to breathe while they suck. When they invariably do forget to breathe, and start choking and gasping for air, you bring them back to normal, you remind them how to breathe. Every time you feed them, you have to remind them how to coordinate sucking and breathing. You race from a deep sleep to their room in the dead of night when their apnea monitors frantically beep, to find they unhooked a wire when they thrashed in their sleep. Your heart doesn’t recover for three hours and you spend the rest of the night lying on the floor next to their crib to make sure they don’t die.
You wonder, how in the world can you be expected to keep these fragile little micro-preemies alive? You worry you won’t be able to save them if there is a problem. You worry about all the challenges they will face in life because of their prematurity–if you are able to keep them alive that long.
When you drive, you spread your hand in between your micro-preemies in the back seat so one baby can hold your pinky and one can hold your thumb, so the wailing will stop, because if they can’t see you their anxiety is through the roof and they think you’ve abandoned them. Your fingers fall asleep, then your hand, your arm, your shoulder. But you are so grateful that your babies are alive, you don’t care. You want to ease any pain they feel, you want to comfort them and make the world a beautiful place for them to be. You are so deeply grateful for these babies that you don’t care if your entire arm is numb for the car ride.
If your baby absolutely cannot sleep on their own because they finally have what they’ve been craving all that time in the NICU–you– then you set up a recliner in your bedroom and sleep with your angel on your chest for as many nights as it takes to make sure your baby feels secure, loved, not alone.
You shield your babies from the world as best you can, while still exposing them to real life. At the grocery store, if the check out person even looks at your toddler, he cowers and shrieks with fear. So you learn to put your body between your toddlers and strangers. So your darlings will be spared the excruciating fear of having other people invade their universe by just looking at them. You explain over and over and over to every person who touches your life why the little boys act this way, why they can’t sit up yet, why their brains are different, why they are so anxious, why they crawl funny, why they aren’t walking yet, why you have to take them for eye checkups and heart checkups and developmental checkups, why you take them to therapies when they are just babies, why you can’t leave them with babysitters, why you won’t let other people take care of your babies, why they are scared of noises, why you keep the lights low, why you’re afraid to let other people feed them who don’t know what to do if they stop breathing, why they need tubes in their ears, why they so easily get sick, why you refuse to expose them to illness…
The world doesn’t understand, but you have a glorious, secret world, you and your babies. You have watched them fight to survive. You have watched them escape death so many times. You can feel what they feel, you can understand the world through their eyes. You know what they are frightened by. You know how to shield and comfort and soothe them, and most of the time it is only you who can do those things. You are their comfort. You know their souls. You know their hearts. It doesn’t matter that the rest of the world thinks you are depressed, or crazy, or overbearing, or rude, or insane. It doesn’t matter because you willed your babies to live and they did. You showed up every day that they were in the NICU, and you held them and kissed them and talked to them and sang to them and listened to the unending beeps of machines that helped to monitor them and keep them healthy and watched as nurses knew how to care for your babies much better than you did. You rejoiced when your babies were finally strong enough to let you give them a bath, when you finally got to change their diaper instead of nurses.
You stayed strong for your babies, even when you felt so weak. You saved most of your tears for the nighttime or the pumping room at the hospital. The only thing you could do was to show up. Every day. For your babies. So that is what you did. And you were one of the lucky families who got to bring your babies home. The moment your babies were born, so early, you vowed you would do anything and everything to help them survive this crazy, unpredictable world. You have had death visit your doorstep. You have had to come to terms with the fact that your babies may not make it. You have had to deal with so many things most parents can not even fathom. Life or death. Absolute terror. Helplessness. Guilt.
So when it comes to me enabling my kids, you have to take into account our history as a family with four preemies. You have to look at the big picture. You have to understand the depths of frantic, all-encompassing fear and despair we have clawed our way out of. You have to remember the PTSD we most certainly suffer from. You have to understand that we are so grateful for the lives of our children, who all almost didn’t make it, that we really don’t care if we seem like we are “too nice” to our kids. We don’t care if we have to help them put their shoes on in the morning, or find their coats and gloves for them, or help them wash their hair in the tub, or bring their dishes to the sink or their underwear to the laundry room.
In the grand scheme of things, our children are fine. They are able to do all these things on their own if they need to. But when you are used to paving the way for your children, used to thinking 12 steps ahead so they have everything they need and won’t feel stressed and have a meltdown because the world is just too overwhelming…this is a hard habit to break. Should I force my kids to be more independent in some areas? Probably. But what parent can honestly look at themselves and not see at least one area where they could do better? I recognize that my area is being “too nice.” I see my weakness. But I also see my big picture. I was there through all the heartache and uncertainty of my children’s births, hospital stays, milestones missed, endless therapies, medical scares…I was the one who showed up for them every minute of every day in every way possible. I am the one who was sleep deprived for a decade because my children couldn’t sleep. I am the one who fights for every single thing they need. I am the one who watches for signs of some new worry. I am the one who finds help when we are faced with that new worry. I am the one who does not take their lives for granted because things so easily could have gone a different way.
So I apologize if the outside world considers my being “too nice” a fault. If you have lived through what I have with my four children, then, and only then, can you criticize or judge what kind of parent, or person, I am.
You can be “too nice” and still be steel-strong. You can be “too nice” but not let people use you and walk all over you. You can be “too nice” and do things for your kids that they probably don’t need you to do, but you do it with gratitude for their lives, and you do it because doing it makes their lives easier. It helps them store up their patience and tolerance and energy for the crazy, unpredictable world outside of our home. It’s who I choose to be. So please stop insulting me with your “too nice” comments until you have walked one single moment in my shoes. I choose to spread kindness, and “too nice-ness,” and it starts in our home. Yes, I have things I need to work on and do better at. Everyone does. But if the world sees one of my biggest flaws as being “too nice,” maybe that’s not the worst thing in the world.
Maybe I should not let that comment irritate me so much. I’ll work on that. In the meantime, I’m still going to be “too nice.”