I am in the midst of an experiment. It is an experiment in “niceness.” It is an experiment in saying “hello” and it is an experiment in being welcoming. It is also an experiment in not taking people for granted.
My experiment started in mid-October on a lovely blue-sky afternoon. I had been mountain biking all morning and then went out to lunch with my riding companions. I didn’t have a big “to-do” list for that day and I stayed away from the computer. When my kids came home, the door was accidently locked and they had to ring the doorbell. I opened the door, greeted them with a big smile and a big “hello” and guess what I got in return? Big smiles and big hellos. We went on to have a very nice afternoon together.
Now you may be the kind of mom or dad that always greets your kids with a big smile and a big hello. I am not. Depending upon what has been happening all day and how pressed I am feeling about getting things “done,” I often greet my kids in a distracted manner, “Hey, hope you had a good day, I’ll be done here at the computer in half an hour.” And, sometimes, I don’t greet them in person at all — just with a note on the whiteboard that reads “On bike ride, be home in half an hour Love, Mom.”
This is not something I am proud of. In fact, it has always sort of bothered me that I am not very good at hellos. I am excellent at goodbyes. Goodbyes are ritualized at our house. Line up by the front door, look each other in the eye, give them a quick hug and wish them a great day. Sometimes, my husband and I even walk the dog at the same time they leave for school and we can all walk together. By the time they come home from school, however, I am usually distracted, stressed, confused or just plain tired from trying to fit too many things into too short a time. Hence, the distracted welcome home and attitude that clearly says “Hello, I love you, but I can’t pay attention right now. Please fend for yourselves and I’ll be with you in a moment (or 30)”. Welcome home? I think not.
Well, after my first successful post-school hello experience with the boys, I decided to try it on my husband. Now when he comes home, we are usually both distracted. By the time he arrives, the boys and I are deep in the midst of either a) homework, b) coming and going from after school activities, or c) dinner preparation (if we’re lucky). “Hi, how was your day? You may want to change clothes, because we have to leave in 15 minutes” is neither a very nice welcome home, nor unfortunately, an uncommon greeting in our home. Let’s face it, who wants to come home to that? Anyway, fresh off of my triumphant smile and hello experience that afternoon, I tried it on my husband and guess what? What I gave out, I got back. Interesting how that works….
So now, here I am 6 weeks later. And here is what I’ve learned.
You get back as good as you give. Obvious, I know, but in this case, by making an effort to be welcoming when the most important people in my life return to my life, we are not only a lot happier, but I have been forced to plan ahead in order to not be stressed at homecoming time. Less stress is best. For everyone.
Don’t take people for granted. I think a lot of adults do this. We use our best manners around strangers, acquaintances and friends, because we want to make a good impression and leave a good impression. With our own families, we are etiquette slobs. We often treat those who matter most like those who matter least. And, then, horror of horrors!, we teach our children to behave this way too.
Smiles cure everything. There are certainly days that don’t go as I’ve planned and there are certainly days when I am stressed. But if I can greet people with a smile (and smile when I answer the phone — hellos and goodbyes are at play even when we’re not face to face) it starts the ball rolling and we are a nicer family.
Make real time to hear about each other’s day. For us, dinner time is not the right time to have this discussion. We eat together most every night, but sometimes early, sometimes late and sometimes there just isn’t time to really reflect with one another on our days. With the boys, I have found that if we can give each other five minutes of undivided attention after they’ve had a chance to eat something and just chill, we may find the 5 minutes will grow to 15. If I am distracted when they get home and just toss them a passing glance and a “Hey how was your day?” my chances of really finding out about their day are nil. It is pretty much the same with my husband.
After seven weeks, you may be wondering why I still say that I am in the midst of an experiment. Shouldn’t the experiment be about over? No. I’ve decided to keep this one rolling. I don’t want to slip back into my bad habits. And, I certainly don’t want to take what I’ve learned for granted. So on the experiment goes…I hope for the rest of my life.
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