Conversations from the dining room…

Me: Look. Johnny got on the honor roll and we got one of those “I’m proud of my honor roll student” bumper stickers.
Littlest Guy: You can’t put that on the car.
Me: No?
Littlest Guy: Only assholes put that on their car.
Johnny: He’s right. Just throw it in the garbage.
Me: But it’s really cool that you’re on the honor roll.
Johnny: Yeah, but it’s still cool that I got good grades without being a braggy douchebag about it.
File it under: I think posting it to my blog probably still categorizes this as braggy, asshole parenting but it’s funny, so I gave myself a pass.

The best thing about my conversations with the kids is… well, they’re funny as hell, so that’s probably the best thing… but after that, the best thing is that they make me think. People always talk about what you’re supposed to teach your kids, but they rarely tell you that your kids will teach you virtually EVERYTHING important.

And there are so many parents that seem to excel in braggy, douchebaggery. I mean, hey, being a proud momma or daddy – that is awesomeness. Rubbing your child’s accomplishments in other parents’ faces with sadistic glee – yeah, not so much. Trying to live vicariously through your rock star child, well, we secretly think that’s just pathetic. Okay, not so secretly. Cut it out. Get a hobby.

So, in this vein of conscious parental introspection, I’ve come up with a little list…

Top 5 Traits That Beat Out Academic Excellence And Superstar Athletic Prowess…
or why my kid’s cooler than your kid… (that’s sarcasm, guys, chill out).

Empathy
Everyone thinks they’re teaching their kid empathy, but if you look out there in the world, you realize that most people don’t have any. Don’t mistake Political Correctness with actual empathetic understanding. When your mother tells you not to say something because it’s not politically correct, it’s because she doesn’t want to be judged for raising a racist, sexist, classist, or whatever other “ist” is on their list (didn’t mean to rhyme, but it has a nice ring to it.) You teach your kid empathy by stopping them every time someone hurts their feelings and making them come up with reasons why that person might have done it or what they might be feeling. You teach them empathy by stopping them every time they say something nasty and asking them how they’d feel if that was said to them or someone they love. That’s it. Teach them to walk in someone else’s shoes. Don’t worry about teaching them to wear shoes that other people will approve of.

Courage
You know, kids automatically think of courage with heroes in comic books or fighting in wars or doing something physical. And sometimes it is. Unfortunately, the depiction is often mistaken for ballsy swagger and absent one, key ingredient in actual courage – fear. It’s not brave to do the right thing when you’re a cocky bastard who’s sure you’re going to win. Courage stems from doing the right thing even when you’re afraid of the consequences. Teach them to do the right thing anyway. Applaud it when they show these little bits of bravery. And when your kid shows signs of cowardice in the face of popular pressures, make sure they know why it’s wrong. I don’t mean brow beat the kid, it’s natural for a kid to want to be liked. But don’t sweep that stuff under the rug to spare feelings. Show them examples of greatness and let them know that they have nothing short of greatness in them, and that’s what they need to live up to.

Honesty
I’m going to say this with a caveat – most kids lie. Lots of kids lie. Creative kids lie more than any other person on the planet, even when they did nothing wrong. I think it’s because they’re testing out their creative powers without meaning to… superman probably flew into a few trees before he figured out how to circle around the earth backwards and bring people back to life (which is kind of ridiculously stupid as a story line, but he’s also afraid of a rock – and yes this all made it into the post because my kid was talking about it yesterday). They’re going to lie, how you deal with it is up to you. For me, being lied to is the same thing as calling me stupid. I get that people usually lie because they’re afraid of getting caught. But if you teach them courage and integrity, they’re more likely to own up to their bullshit when it’s important.

Integrity
Lots of people mistake integrity for pride. Here’s the thing, pride is often self-centered. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with pride as a quality if it means taking care of yourself or your belongings or being proud of where you come from. Great. It becomes a problem when your pride leads you to believe you’re better than anyone or that you have the right to denigrate and belittle others. I actually think pride is a great quality, but the misunderstanding of it in general is why it doesn’t make this list. Now, integrity is a different story. Integrity is the ability to stay consistent ALWAYS with your moral compass. A kid might know what the right thing is, but knowing what’s right and doing it can be vastly different things when put into practice out in the world of very fallible human beings. What people wind up doing is acting exactly like the people around them. They think “why should I treat other people better than they treat me?” They fight fire with fire. When someone slanders them in an argument, they answer with slander of their own. The thing with dropping your integrity to get down on the same level with your adversary is this – you don’t wind up rising back up to the level of your integrity because you’ve given it away. And the person dragging you down wins. People with integrity are easy to read, they’re predictable. They will always do the right thing and that makes them bigger targets for people who are jealous or have bad intentions. But that doesn’t matter. You have to be able to look at yourself in the mirror. Teach your kids to always act with integrity. When someone doesn’t respond in kind, it’s acceptable to stop dealing with them, being a good person does not mean being a doormat
Loyalty
Loyalty is the last quality I’ll mention, but it’s definitely not the least important. The thing is, all of the achievement in the world cannot replace the value of true friendship and lasting relationships and you can’t have those without loyalty. Loyalty, as I see it, means not only being on your friends’ and family’s side when they’re right, but sticking with them when they’re wrong, when they’re having a hard time, when they make bad decisions. Loyalty means being the person to tell your friend the hard truths in private, but never talking about them disparagingly in public. Loyalty is rarer than people make it out to be, too. The best people in the world can slip when they’re scared or have something immense at stake. True loyalty knows when to forgive missteps and how to overcome failures. Because the point to the whole journey isn’t getting to a finish line, it’s about not leaving people behind while you’re running your own race.

I say all the time that my kids’ accomplishments are their own. It almost feels like I just got blessed with very cool people to raise and, to some extent, I think that’s partially true. Nature versus nurture – they’re both intensely important. No matter where you come from, the responsibility for where you’re going lies in the individual.

In writing and reading parenting articles, I think the focus tends to be on a step-by-step. Like everyone’s looking for some concrete formula on how to get their kid to learn this or that thing or how to NOT fuck it all up. The truth is, it’s not like baking a cake. No matter the expert, the clear cut instructions are tainted with a bit of bullshit, because every person is unique. You want your best chances for raising a decent person, be a decent person.

Kids can overcome rotten fucking parents, but they have a pretty steep handicap in the process. You want a kid with integrity? Your best chance is to have some integrity. It’s not fool proof. I’ve seen some amazing and awesome people breed complete narcissistic halfwits… that’s why I say there is no step-by-step. Because the truth is a lot more complicated than anything you can paint by numbers. The focus needs to be less about creating an individual and more about building the relationships with your child so they understand how important relationships really are out in the world.

And, you know, try not to be a braggy douchebag about it.

Top 5 Traits for Kids with Character

3 thoughts on “Top 5 Traits for Kids with Character

  • I always enjoy reading these conversations, most of which I’ve seen on Facebook. There almost like zen koans and the quick bits of insight one finds in haiku. As for parenting: instilling empathy is a great start.

    Malcolm

  • Malcolm is right….these tidbits are like a touch of Zen…..Entertaining and informative….does it get better than that?

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