Dear Daughter,

I keep coming back to this word “nice.” I’m always telling you things like “that’s not nice,” or “nice girls don’t pick their noses,” in an attempt to socialize you into the ever-expanding world you are discovering.  I tell you to be nice because I don’t want you to be a bully. I don’t want other kids and adults to avoid you. I don’t want people to judge you.

Honestly. Who am I kidding? Those things can happen. Why do I think I have any sort of control over it?

I was a nice girl. I was a nice teenager. I was nice young adult. Even when I went through (as described in Harold & Kumar) my “post-college rebel bulls***” phase, I was still a nice girl under all the drugs and booze and grime. This nice girl liked to take broken people under her wing. She liked to pretend that she could change them. She thought by letting them walk all over her, she was being a supportive partner. Being nice got her nothing but pain, abandonment and guilt.

So how do I teach you to be nice? Why does that word keep spewing out of my mouth? Can you live by the Golden Rule when your mom doesn’t believe it anymore? I’ve bitterly modified this Karmatic theory into “Be nice to other people, just don’t expect them to be nice to you.”

What kind of advice is that to guide your 3-year-old daughter?

I grew up with my mother’s  “I don’t care how the world really is, this is how is SHOULD be, and that’s how I’m going to live it” philosophy. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the self-esteem to pull it off.

Daughter, when you were sad, you used to say, “Mommy you make me cry”. Now you tell me, “Mommy, you killed my feelings.” Your defiant screams have started to cause permanent ringing in my ears. All this “be nice” talk seems to be meaningless to you.

Maybe because its meaningless to me?

I like that you are determined and confident. I like that you are funny and quick to laugh. You are a Gemini: by the time my blood pressure has risen, you have turned off the screams and are hugging me again. You know exactly the moment I’m about to crack, so you switch on the charm; as if your bad behavior never happened. You accusingly tell me I’m “very rude” when you hear something you don’t like.

It’s exhausting. Infuriating. I don’t know how to deal with it, except say those two stupid words.

 Be. Nice.

12 thoughts on “Meaningless

  1. What a great post Hanna. Isn’t it true how our children challenge us?! As in every relationship, both parties are growing.

    Good stuff here.


  2. I do the exact same thing. Toots picks her nose all the time. I am always telling her that little girls don’t do that.
    She hits all the time and I say, be nice, gentle.
    Who are we kidding. As I always say. It’s a damn good thing they are so cute!


  3. Oh, balls. Nice girls do pick their noses, they DO hit, they DO throw tantrums. Live the way you would like her to see you live, and she will follow. Be nice to other people because it is the right thing to do, not because you expect or hope for niceness in return. Life is simply what it is, there are always going to bullies and jerks and assholes, but I really, really think that we as a whole should stop telling our kids to be “nice.” Nice people do lots of bad things; how about, “Please don’t pick your nose in public because it is gross.” or “Please don’t hurt that kid by hitting him” I used to tell my daughter, too, to be nice, but all being a “nice” girl got ME was drunk and walked on and shit on. I try now to teach them assertivness, politeness, and the diplomatic ability to call someone as asshole withough coming right out and SAYING it. Tee hee, I will let you know how THAT works out, right?


  4. I really just should have said, “Oh, dudette, I GET that,” because in re-reading my comment (AFTER I posted it, OF COURSE) it sounded like I was chastising YOU, and I wasn’t; I get tired of the be nice crap, because it is such a generalized term; what does that even MEAN to a three year old? Sigh…shut me up now, please. : )


    1. Hey, honey. I DID title this post “meaningless” for that exact reason. What does ANYTHING mean to a 3-year-old, and how do you give the values you want to teach them meaning? What does gross mean? What does nice mean? I still love you 😉


  5. When Sylvia was at KIPP, they wrote as part of their header for every school paper: “Be Nice. Work Hard.” Does it mean that everyone was nice and worked hard all of the time? Probably not, but I think of it more as a mission statement: something to strive to achieve. It’s like perfection – none of us are going to get there, but striving to be a better person can’t be a bad thing, can it?


  6. Fabulous post! I simply try to lead by example for my littleman. I too have found myself saying one thing or another in hopes that it’ll sink in but seriously, what the heck does it actually mean to a young child? I say, lead by example, kids are quick and oick it up so much easier.


  7. Yep I would definitely go by the lead by example. I think my relationship with my mom would be so much better had she not said “do as I say and not as I do.”


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