The (Sometimes Rare) Kindness of Brothers

Sarah Harris essays

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As parents, my husband and I work tirelessly to instill good values in our three children. Among other life lessons, of course, like: there’s a time and a place for potty words and it is not at the dinner table, we try to focus on the big ones: We try our best. We help others. We have respect for people and places and things. We are generous with our belongings and our time and our love. My husband and I teach these virtues through direct instruction (“You’ve had a long turn on the swing, it’s time to let your sister have a turn.”) as well as through our own actions (“I’ve been saving my money and I’d like to donate some of it to help the people in Nepal who lost their homes in the earthquake.”)

Mostly, however, we have a refrain that we repeat often: the only thing that truly matters is that you are kind. When you think about it, this simple statement encompasses it all: When you act with kindness, everything else (generosity, thoughtfulness, honesty, cooperation, respect) follows suit. Kindness is all it takes; kindness is all that matters.

We have three young children close in age, though, and kindness among siblings doesn’t always come naturally. There is selfishness, there is competition, there are disrespectful words and actions. There is arguing and bickering and, sometimes, hand-to-hand combat.

Sometimes I look at the way they treat each other and listen to the way they speak to each other and I worry: Am I raising kind children? Then why the hell do they fight like that?!

In those moments of parental despair, I look at my kids when they’re outside of our home: Are they respectful when speaking to other adults? Do they interact well with their friends? Are they cooperative members of their classrooms? Do they listen well to their teachers? Do they put forth their best effort during golf lessons and gymnastics class?

It’s reassuring to me to see how they act, how they present themselves, and how they treat others when they’re out in the world because what I see–what they save for home and for their siblings–is often their worst. It’s what they have left when they’ve used up all of their kindness on others.

But not always. Sometimes, what I see at home, what I see when they’re together and don’t know that I’m watching, is their very best.

A few weeks ago, a new friend came over to our yard to play. Lauren’s family recently moved to our neighborhood and, after spying on us from her side of the fence for a few days, she was meeting my boys, Evan and Max, for the first time. Evan, who is seven, and typically the more reserved brother, was the one to invite her over. Max, 5, the more outgoing, dress-wearing brother, immediately joined in their game.

Ah, yes. Backing up a bit: Max wears dresses. And skirts. Often tiaras and painted fingernails and sparkly shoes, too. When playing pretend, he always assumes the role of a female character and, more often than not, he is singing and twirling and otherwise just being the happiest, most joyful child you’ve ever met. You can call him gender-nonconforming. We just call him Max.

When Lauren first met Max, he was wearing a pink dress, floral leggings, and turquoise and pink sneakers. He was pretending to be a “village girl in the castle times named Alice.” Lauren eyed him curiously at first, perhaps mentally weighing his outfit against his short hair and his real name against that of his character. Without a word of gender clarification, though, the kids just started playing together, as kids do.

Max was the village girl, Lauren the princess, and Evan was a knight. After about ten minutes, Lauren turned to Evan and said, “Now, how about, your sister comes to my castle and you can be our bodyguard?”

“You mean my brother,” Evan corrected.

“No, your sister,” Lauren insisted, pointing at Max: “Her.”

Max broke character, then, and laughed: “I’m really a boy you know.”

“You’re a boy?” Lauren finally understood. Almost. “But…you’re wearing a dress.”

Max stood there, quiet, for just a beat. We have given him words for this kind of situation: “In our family, we wear what we like. And I like to wear dresses.” For some reason, he didn’t use them, as he’s done in the past. He didn’t look upset, though, so I didn’t feel the need to intervene, but I was listening. This Mama Bear is always listening…just in case…ready to jump in and protect.

But before I could decide if I should step in, before Max found the words he wanted to use, Evan, Brave Knight Evan, put his arm around his little brother’s shoulders.

“Well, you see…this little fella just likes wearing dresses. So do you need a bodyguard, Princess, or what?”

The tension diffused. My shoulders, which I had unknowingly stiffened, relaxed. The kids went back to playing and I went back to sweeping the patio…with a heart that had grown three sizes that day; overflowing with pride. Kindness wins. It always does.

And my kids? They’ll be alright.


About the Author

Sarah Harris

Sarah is a mother of three and a writer of all the thoughts that clutter her mind. Her writing has appeared on Scary Mommy, BonBon Break, The Mid, in addition to her blog: .

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June 2015 – Kindness
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