Why I don’t tell my kids to be nice

Written by Kristin Demery
Published on February 01, 2022

Crunch crunch, smack. Like nails on a chalkboard, I could hear the open-mouthed chewing of one of my children from across the room. 

Chew with your mouth closed, please, I admonished her. As the evening wore on, other mannerisms arose: Please. Thank you. Excuse me. May I? I’m sorry. But the one admonishment that never crossed my lips? Be nice to your sister. 

It’s not because I have exceptionally well-behaved children. They are just as likely to tattle because one sister threw a book at the other as they are to be amicably playing Polly Pockets together. 

It’s also not because I don’t care about manners—a quick scan of social media is enough of a testimony to how we could all use a little more civility. 

But the truth is, I don’t want an outwardly careful response to mask an inwardly careless heart. 

So I don’t ask them to be nice, I ask them to be kind. 

Kindness and mercy

When I was 17, another girl at school called me “Little Miss Perfect.” It wasn’t meant as a compliment, and I didn’t take it as one. The truth is, my Goody-Two-Shoes exterior masked a heart that was just as selfish as anyone else’s. 

It wasn’t until I had children of my own that I realized the depth of my own weak and selfish heart, how hard I clung to my own impulsive need for control, how ill-equipped I was to face life on my own—how desperate I was for God’s grace. 

Even now, years later, there are still days when I feel a little sick from the root of selfishness buried deep in my stomach, entangling me and gripping my heart in unhealthy ways. 

And yet—his loving mercy overflows. 

In the Bible, the word kindness is often exchanged for the word mercy. Our family talks a lot about how mercy is showing compassion and care for others, even (or perhaps especially) when that kindness is undeserved. We talk about what mercy looks like, whether it’s loving neighbors as we love ourselves or treating our siblings the way we’d treat our best friend. We talk about serving and giving and helping those in need. We talk about respecting others and cultivating friendships. 

An extension of grace

And at the root of all of that is kindness for ourselves, our community, even for people we may never meet. Because all of those people are made in the image of God, just like we are, and they are precious and loved and worthy of every kindness we could ever bestow, every mercy we can extend—an extension and a mirror of the grace and mercy that’s been extended to us. 

At the end of the day, I’m not raising little girls who look and sound polite, I’m raising women who I hope will be kind, brave, loving, merciful, faithful, generous, and strong at the very core of who they are—just like I’d like to be.

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Kristin Demery

A career in journalism set Kristin Demery up to one day publish her own stories of living this wild, precious life. She is now an author of numerous books—including her newest, One Good Word a Day (Tyndale, 2021)—and part of a trio of writers collectively known as The Ruth Experience. Kristin served as a newspaper and magazine editor, and her work has been featured in a variety of publications. She still works behind the scenes as an editor for others while writing her own series on kindness, friendship, and living with intention. An adventurer at heart, she loves checking items off the family bucket list with her husband and three daughters. Connect with Kristin on her website, Facebook, and Instagram.

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