The One Thing to Say to Your Kids

Kim Bongiorno essays

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It was a cranky morning.

I hustled my kids out of bed, into breakfast, into clean clothes, into backpacks, into the car, the whole while on a diatribe of epic proportions about not listening, being late, how they’re old enough to understand what’s expected of them.

I was already sick of my own voice by the time I put the car in reverse.

We drove in silence. I was wrestling with the unfair frustration I already felt by 8am, and they were tired and not in the mood to test me much further.

I parked the car and walked them up the path, holding my silence in order to keep the peace until it was time to kiss them “Goodbye” for the next six hours. She leaned in and gave me a little squeeze, he fought my grip, worried his friends would see him accepting a mother’s affection.

Our awkward grapple over, I stood beneath the glossy green canopy of a tree I’ve visited countless times before, and watched them walk side-by-side to the entrance, heads hanging. Disappointment weighed on my heart.

Something in the breeze changed, and I felt my eyes drawn to a mom and her daughter as they approached. They, too, were quiet, until the mom kissed her on the head and said, “Be kind.”

Her daughter smiled up at her and turned away, not saying anything in reply. Peace washed over me.

I hadn’t run unto these two before. Not ever. But that morning I needed to hear that mom speak. I needed to see her daughter accept her words and move confidently into her day with them wrapped like a gentle cloak over her shoulders.

I needed to be reminded that sometimes the answer really is that simple.

Our morning could have gone more smoothly if the kids and I had just been kinder to one another. My impatience wasn’t kind. Their behavior wasn’t kind. We all could have done better.

So the next day I skipped the nagging, and used a gentler tone when reminding them of what we needed to do to get out on time in the morning. When I said goodbye, I quietly requested they be kind—to themselves, to others—as they went on with their days.

And then I said the same to myself.

Doing this totally changed the game.

Our lateness that rough morning allowed us to cross paths with that mom and daughter, and our whole family has benefited from it since then. It makes me think that we had to have such an uncomfortable, bad experience to clearly see in contrast what we could be doing, instead.

Because of that moment I witnessed, I now know the only thing I need to say to myself and my kids every day before we go out into this world are two little words that hold so many strong, beautiful objectives within them: Be kind.


About the Author

Kim Bongiorno

Kim Bongiorno is a writer of humor, fiction and memoir. Her blog is , her books are listed on , and she is always available on .

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