I've been thinking a lot lately about being 'nice.' Mostly, I think about niceness and kindness as it relates to my relationships with my kids and husband. I try to be nice. I try to do little things for them (buy their favorite foods at the store, prepare favorite meals, do extra laundry during the week, rub backs at night) to show love, to ensure they feel special and to let them take a little breath after a long day, to sit down and relax and not think about what to make for dinner or if, say, one's soccer jersey is clean and ready for practice.
Part of this is my 'job' as a stay-at-home-mom, but more than that, this is my personality.
The doozy of all this?
My kids treat me with greater disrespect and are ruder to me the nicer I am.
There is a cycle to it I've seen emerge time and again.
I will be nice to my kids and do extra things for them to express this niceness.
The kids will be happy and excited, and we all feel like a Norman Rockwell painting.
Then the kids will begin to take said niceness for granted and no longer express thanks or appreciation.
I will begin to resent my kids.
I will let that resentment foster in my little heart until one day I completely lose my shit over some tiny infraction (you didn't unpack your lunchbox???). Everyone in the house will look at me like I might need to see someone or take something or, in the very least, like, chill out.
I will stop being nice.
My kids will start being nice and picking their stuff up and thanking me for making a meal or packing a lunch at all.
I will feel better, for all of that thanks, and I will then slowly start buying miniature brie wedges to pack in lunches as special treats and omitting red pasta sauce from our weekly menu due to dietary preferences and scrambling to ensure laundry is done and neatly stacked before anyone needs it.
And the cycle begins again.
I've learned, through relationships with men, with kids, with friends, with co-workers and with other moms, that niceness is appreciated...until it's not.
There is a line, I suppose. One minute you're a lovely friend who has helped someone out of a pinch; the next minute you're a doormat.
The obvious answer, then, is to stop being so nice. Stop letting people take advantage. Have some ownership and agency about what one allows from others.
This all reminds me of the saying:
It's true, of course. We allow people to treat us poorly, and we often have a choice in the matter. I don't have to get my kids brie wedges or bake two different kinds of cookies or hustle around town for the perfect poster board for a school project (in the rain, enduring a Dollar Store fiasco I'd rather not discuss).
I make the choice to do those things. I could easily not do them. I could easily sit at home during my day and read novels and do my beloved Barre 3 workouts and figure if the kids want clean laundry they can do it themselves and dinner will be a rotisserie chicken and a box of rice pilaf.
But you know what?
I don't want to live like that. I don't want to hold in the niceness or curtail the kindness or have to think: if I fold his laundry and stack it neatly on his bed, am I spoiling him?
Ugh. Why can't it go like this:
I do something nice for you.
You appreciate that niceness and do something nice back for me.
We're all happy and glowing and floating of a cloud of golden-rule bliss.
I was thinking about this all weekend, while my family was away at a soccer tournament. Then, this morning, I saw this op-ed in the New York Times by writer Jessica Knoll, 'I Want to be Rich and I'm Not Sorry.'
I read it a few times through. I haven't read Knoll's books, nor had I ever even heard of her. I'm now simultaneously curious and put-off by Knoll.
The basic gist is that Knoll takes a no-holds-barred approach to her literary career (which by all accounts is going swimmingly) and refuses to go anything other than full-throttle toward richness, determined solely it seems by money and spending power.
She wants to be rich enough to "...jet to Mexico on a Tuesday, to meaningfully contribute to nasty politicians, to afford a shark of a lawyer if any man ever lays a finger on me again."
Knoll was, as a teenager, sexually assaulted and seems to be pursuing money as a means of protecting herself against the abuse-of-power she felt then (at 15) and probably throughout her life trying to make it in a male-dominated industry (writing).
I won't get into a big old thing about Knoll's article. You can read it and come to your own conclusions. I'm sure we'll all have a 'take' on it based on our own life experiences and the belief/values we've developed as a result.
But it makes me wonder:
Is there such thing as too nice?
Because I know for a fact there's such thing as not nice enough.
And I'm worried that if we encourage Knoll's line of thinking - in any gender - we're fixing one problem (lack of independence and power for women) and creating another (a culture fixated on financial rewards as the only currency that means anything).
Where any of that leaves me is where I usually stand: clutching at the side of my head and wondering what I'm supposed to do with what has become a normal phenomenon for me...conflicting values.
Perhaps it all goes back to one reader's comment on my last parenting post: that the point isn't so much what we do but the attitude with which we do it.
Knoll's attitude seems precarious to me. It seems fear-based, angry and full of despair - which isn't a judgement or condemnation. Having suffered sexual assault will no-doubt do that to a person.
But will it ever give her the peace she seeks?
Because money seems an awfully unstable way to achieve it.
That being said, purchasing Humbolt Fog blue cheese for a ten-year-old's afternoon snack and folding all clothing into tiny envelopes isn't doing me any favors either.
Thoughts? Have you found a balance for yourself between doormat and nice-girl? Do we need to erase nice-girl from our social vocabulary or, perhaps, simply value niceness more and, in so doing, encourage it across the board? And is gunning full-throttle toward richness somehow not nice?
Finally, here is a blog post by another blogger (and lawyer) who also read Knoll's op-ed: Of Worth & Money: A Response to Jessica Knoll's, "I Want to be Rich and I'm Not Sorry." There's obviously a lot to say about Knoll's op-ed.
I'm off to walk Sandy and enjoy a day of 65 degree, sunny, low-humidity weather. Summer will be here soon enough. I've got to find a decent pair of daily-wear sandals for that.