I often have my most deepest discussions with my daughter in the precious few minutes with her before the lights go out for the night. As I crawl into bed for cuddles before she goes to sleep, we find ourselves talking about quite deep and meaningful topics. A few weeks ago, following attending a friend’s baby’s christening, my daughter was introduced to the concept of religion and the after-life. Other nights we have chatted about her role as a big sister and role-model. When occasion warrants it, I help her make sense of the complicated nature of her older half-brother and his biological mother’s family.
Tonight’s discussion was no different in terms of depth, as my 6 year old daughter was introduced to one of the ‘Masters’ – Ghandi. It was in a brief comment she made about being mean to mean people, that I seized my opportunity to expand her values base and have her consider a different viewpoint of the traditional saying ‘an eye for an eye’. When I questioned her as to why she thought mean people should be treated meanly, she responded by saying ‘because people say that’s how they’ll learn their lesson’. Cue the perfect introduction to Ghandi. Fortunately, earlier in the weekend my daughter and I had completed our ongoing art project and had discussed the power of words and the messages contained within them. I had chosen to place on my canvas Ghandi’s quote “be the change you wish to see in the world”. I reminded her of this and asked her what she thought this might mean. Naturally she had not stopped to consider its meaning (being 6 years old, why would you)! So our nighttime pre-sleep cuddle had turned into a wonderful moment to teach y 6 year old the value of kindness.
In explaining to her what Ghandi had meant, I reiterated to her that ‘mean’ people need more kindness in their lives for them to ever understand a possible alternative way of living. If we want more kindness we have to be kind. If we want more honesty, we first have to be honest. If we want more love, we first have to be loving. This was a simple concept she could understand. It wasn’t a long conversation, but one that will generate some connections for her as she comes across how other people comment on dealing with ‘mean’ people. It won’t be the last conversation we have about kindness. The mere fact we have a 3, 6 and 14 year old sharing the same facilities in our household necessitates many revisits to the concept of kindness. In this instance though, my daughter was given a glimpse of the more global picture of kindness, through the words of one of the great leaders of the world.
As I considered our discussion long after she had fallen asleep, it made me really appreciate those precious few moments before bed. Too often, parents are either distracted, exhausted or disengaged and eager to get kids to sleep (or have kids put themselves to bed) that this prime opportunity for one to one time before sleep is not capitalised on. By setting this up as an expected routine on a daily basis, conversations, such as the one I had tonight, will occur with ease. And as we have experienced, as they grow older, the tone of the conversation changes. Instead of Mum or Dad being the disseminator of knowledge, the child begins to share and question more. We now find that, although we don’t offer the ‘cuddles’ we once did to our teenager, the conversations we continue to have prior to bedtime are often the most complex and values-based we have ever had. We continue to reiterate our family values to him, often in direct contrast to the complex themes he faces with his peer relationships and societal expectations. These conversations give strength to the core of his upbringing and, we hope, will allow him informed choice as he faces the many challenges yet to come his way.
And as for my daughter, tonight has been one of many opportunities she will continue to have before bedtime in meeting the ‘Masters’ of humanity. Learning words to live by and beginning to notice how they might relate to the world in which she exists in.