I’m a nice person. I know this because people tell me all the time, “Hey man, you’re a good dude,” or, “Aww, you’re so nice, thank you!” Most of the time hearing this reaffirms my sense of well-being.
But the other truth is, occasionally what I hear is, “You’re a people pleaser” which is, well, not very nice at all. Hold that thought for a minute – let me tell you a story:
On the whole, I prefer being nice. The fact is, right or wrong, I know that I am happier and more successful being A Nice Guy rather than being an Asshole.
When I became a parent, it was my gut instinct to do my best to pass my Nice-y-ness onto my kids. At times, I admit this effort has felt a bit futile. Why? As it turns out, being nice to each other is not the natural state of siblings. “Be nice, please!” is an oft-repeated mantra around my house, usually to deaf ears.
Or so I thought.
Our story begins innocently enough. One school night, my eight-year-old said, “Daddy, I need to bake some cookies.”
“Sure, we can do that this weekend.” Awww, nice Daddy.
“I need to do it right now, pleease,” she continues. I hear in her voice the first squeaks of a prolonged begging session coming on. So, I bite and ask, “Why do you need to do it right now?”
She tells me a small group of friends at school have formed a cooking contest club, and it’s her turn to bring in cookies to be judged. I try not to roll my eyes as I make a quick mental note to delete all the cooking contest shows from the DVR.
I ask her: Is this the first time the club is meeting? (yes), Is anyone else bringing things? (yes), Was this your idea, too? (Sort of), and so on. My inquisition completed, I cave like a Nice Daddy does, and let her make Snicker Doodles, mostly because I like them, and also because I know she can make them by herself. Mostly.
A week later she says, “Daddy, I need to make some Cheesy Crackers for the baking contest club.”
Ugh, I really need to delete those shows. Fucking Alton Brown. This is all his fault.
“Fine,” I say, “but that’s it for a while, okay?” Such a nice Daddy.
The next day after school I ask, “So how did the club like your crackers? What did the other people make?”
“Well, no one else made anything,” she says, hesitating, “And Daddy? Actually, the leader who made up the club ate all the crackers herself and didn’t give any to the other judges.” Seeing the look on my face, she adds quickly: “I didn’t know! I was busy cleaning up the yard for the custodian.” I raise my eyebrows. Yes, that’s a story for another day.
Anyway, then she gives me one of those naive mash-up looks only kids can make: a look somewhere between embarrassed, crestfallen, and confused.
“Oh,” I say (ever ready with words of wisdom, me!) “Weren’t the other kids there?”
No, they weren’t. In fact, the “leader” had not only eaten all the crackers herself, she had also eaten all the cookies from the week before. So I conclude, for all intents and purpose this girl had succeeded in making my kid her own personal baker. My brain has a brief, bemused thought: Ha, a regular Tom Sawyer, that kid. The little shit.
After a little talk pep talk, a few hugs, and a promise to make more cookies over the weekend, I send my happy-again kid back to her episode of Cutthroat Kitchen. I know, I know, nice Daddy.
As I made dinner that night I considered further how the hell my sweet kid had been taken advantage of by this schoolyard manipulator, when it hit me: Oh shit, my kid is too nice, and it’s our fault!
Can it be, I mused, that our constant admonishments to Be nice, Be nice, Be nice may have actually robbed her of the ability to not be nice when a situation actually called for it?
Because let’s face it, any self-respecting Mean Girl would have told this leader kid to fuck off and make her own damn cookies… you know, in kid-speak.
Later, I told my wife about the incident. She shook her head and sighed, “Ugh, poor boo. She’s such a sweetie, isn’t she?”
I nodded in agreement, “Yes. Yes she is.” I didn’t share my misgivings about feeling like we had made her too sweet, that maybe we needed to teach her more about sticking up for herself, that we didn’t want her to be… a People Pleaser.
And there it was. Fuck. I could physically feel the backhanded moniker echoing around my brain as another line knit itself neatly into my brow. Was I upset for myself or my kid? It hardly mattered.
“It’s okay,” my wife said putting her arm around me. “Better that than a Mean Girl, right?” And that’s why I love my wife. She can read my mind, or at least my brow, without me saying a word.
And it’s true. Right or wrong, for better or worse, I know deep down that I value being kind and helpful and friendly in my own right, and I want my kids to be the same way.
Will they sometimes get taken advantage of? Maybe. But I trust that my kids are smart enough to learn for themselves that kindness will come back more often not. And I trust that they will learn (with a little guidance from us) to see through people who don’t have their best interests at heart.
In the meantime, I’ve got some DVR management to get to. Peace out.
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