I get the pressure to raise smart kids. Really, I do. In fact, driving home from a play date not long ago, I heard an ad on the radio in which a woman insisted I do my homework on day care places because early education starts, well, early. The ad also suggested that if my 18-month-old isn’t starting her education out on the right foot, then she may never catch up to her peers. At that moment I looked in the rear-view mirror and caught my daughter trying to fit her whole foot in her mouth. Apparently, I was screwed.
My daughter, now 2 1/2 years old, is with me most days. And since she's a total extrovert and I would go crazy in the house all day alone with her, we’re out in public a lot: visiting friends, taking trips to the zoo and going out to eat. In our day-to-day, we hold many conversations with each other, and I am more often than not finding myself explaining things to her, even when I know it's over her head. But it's not what you think. I'm not trying to increase her vocabulary or teach her things beyond her years so she can excel in a field at an Ivy League.
I simply want to raise my daughter to be kind in a world that may seem otherwise.
I want my daughter to be the light in a world of violence.
We talk about using gentle hands and thank the owner at the park whose dog we got to pet. We smile at the person taking our order at the fast food chain where she loves to play. I tell her while watching PBS how wonderful it is that families come in all shapes and sizes.
I understand the importance of kids getting ahead in school so that colleges look at them. I get that doing homework has a purpose. But when my daughter grows up, and my husband and I are sitting in the bleachers at her high school graduation, I don’t want to just be proud of her for that diploma. I want to know that she is the girl that will say hi to the new boy in her class. I want to know she was the one that invited the lonely girl to sit with her at lunch.
In an age where school shootings have become horrifyingly normal, I want my daughter to be the light in a world of violence. I want to let her know that mental health and gun control issues can't be solved with being nice to a future school shooter—that is not for her to take on. But being nice will get her further in life than any degree ever will.
I have wonderful educators involved in my daughter’s life. They have been instrumental in her learning, even though she’s not even 3. But it’s my job to help her navigate life and how to treat others while still upholding her own values.
So, yes, even in early toddlerhood, my daughter is learning kindness. I don't have grand plans for her life, but I do hope she makes a difference in those little moments along the way.