I had a bit of a shocking experience on Saturday which has given me a lot to think about over the past day or so. I want to write about raising children to polite. Not polite in the sense of letting other people walk all over them, but polite in the sense of being respectful of other people, even people they vehemently disagree with.
Here is my story.
I was sitting at the school fair stall one of my children's classes was responsible for when someone I consider a friend; someone I have entrusted my children to, came up for a casual chat. As always, we laughed and joked around and chatted casually. This woman and I have a lot in common, we share a lot of parenting philosophies and choice, but not all. I have always thought that was okay. I have always believed we each believed the other to do what was best for our own children.
So, we were chatting and laughing and she asked me to mind a bag for her, which I did by putting my hand on it. When she got back we had the following conversation:
Her: Oh, was the bag going to fall?
Me: No, you said, 'put your hand on it', so I did because I always do what I am told [I laughed because this is not quite true]
Her: Oh, so, how rude of me!
Me: No, no, you know I don't always do what I'm told, in fact, just the other day mother-in-law asked if we'd completed the children's vaccination schedule-
Her: [puts her hand up traffic cop style to stop me talking, then abruptly says] I have a completely opposite view to you on this and I am not going to discuss this with you!
Then she turns to her daughter nearby and asks her a question on a completely different topic.
I let her finish talking to her daughter, and try to laugh lightly (while dying of embarrassment on the inside) and say,
Me: What I was going to say was...
Again she turned to someone else and started talking. It was clear she wasn't going to let me finish my story.
Just for the record, my story would have ended this way...
'in fact, just the other day mother-in-law asked me if we'd finished the children's vaccination schedule, but of course, I don't always do what I'm told and I thought she knew that about me by now.'
I wasn't attempting to 'enter into a discussion' with this woman. I'm pretty sure I've never even discussed this topic with this woman. On one occasion I noted that I didn't agree with my midwife for Ari (who was also this woman's midwife) on vaccinations but it didn't stop us working together, I believe at the time this woman said she did vaccinate so she agreed with the midwife, that was the extent of our conversation about vaccination.
I have to admit, I feel very hurt to have been dismissed that way. Her tone of voice suggested she was angry with me for making the decision not to vaccination. I would guess she believes that puts her children at risk by lowering herd immunity. I'm shocked with such underlying resentment that she would have anything to do with me or my family at all. I wasn't about to launch into a campaign to get this woman to make the same choice as me regarding her children's health because I firmly believe this is her choice. I believe every parent must choose according to their conscience on this matter.
Secondly, I don't believe she knows my opinion on this at all - certainly not from how she reacted because then she'd know I'm very happy for other people to vaccinate their kids (and not because I believe that protects my kids, but because I don't believe anyone vaccinating their child is directly damaging my children). I don't believe we've ever discussed this topic. I don't vaccinate my children because that is the medical advice I received for MY children. I did not receive any advice for anyone else's children.
But okay, let's move on from my feelings of hurt and frustration here because this got me thinking about how I want my children to interact with the world.
It is not differences of opinion that negatively impacts friendship, it's being rude about those difference of opinion and intentionally causing the other person to feel small and stupid without giving them the curtesy of letting them even finish their sentence.
I want my boys to have their own minds. I want them to always have their own opinions and understandings of whatever choices they make. I don't want my children to make choices without first considering their options.
As well as this, I want them to understand and acknowledge that other people who make different choice, especially important choices - like choices about raising their own children - will also have thought about those choices and made those choices to the best understanding of their options and of the consequences of those choices.
I never want my children to be rude or dismissive of other person simply because they don't agree with their choices. In fact, I never want them to be rude or dismissive for any reason.
I want my children to always see other people, first and foremost, as people, with hearts and minds and feelings which must be respected and never, never treated as lesser beings.
I want my children to understand what it is to be polite and considerate and compassionate and to have grace.
I am often flabbergasted at how human beings find it so easy to be cruel or mean-spirited, as if their opinion really is the only one which counts, as if all other people who think differently as mindless drones or thoughtless troublemakers.
I understand having strong opinions (I am very opinionated - oh, you couldn't tell? Really?) and I often, very, very often feel frustrated that other people cannot see the absolute truths I can see. (yes, I'm taking the piss out of myself because we can all stand to do that once in a while, even me) I have privately thought things I know I shouldn't think about other people's lack of insight. However, when it comes to interacting with people, I have always tried to understand why they make different decisions. I have tried to be conscious of letting them finish their explanations and listening to them. I can't just cut someone off mid sentence with a tone of voice which showed such contempt they were left wondering why I even bother to speak to them at all.
Why do people do that? I just don't understand how a person can do that to another person and not understand the pain they inflict, or possibly not care that they may be inflicting pain.
I am striving to raise children who will understand the power of their actions but will also have enough compassion to use that power carefully, judiciously and never to intentionally inflict pain on another person.