No More Mr. Nice Dad

I am nice.

I wasn’t raised with great boundaries, so I lean toward niceness out of an instinct for survival. I find it easier to put my needs last and take care of someone else’s needs first.

When I was young, I was confused by my family, particularly my father. So I shrank how much space I took up. I was quiet and introverted so I was mistaken as shy. No one was curious about me so I stopped asking myself what I wanted.

Being nice seemed to help me get along in life, especially when I was younger. With time, it became easier to sharpen my superpowers of generosity and kindness into a single-minded focus on what other people needed. As that focus got stronger, my ability to listen to what I wanted got weaker.

So it was natural for me to become a Nice Husband and a Nice Dad. Only now I can see that … 

Being nice no longer serves me.

I’m a better friend, a better husband, and a better father when I choose to be kind.

The biggest difference between being nice and kind is being clear and consistent with my boundaries. As Brené Brown says, “Clear is kind.” It takes discipline to be clear about who I am, what I want, and to give myself permission to take up space.

I’ll give you an example of the difference: Do you have someone in your life who always eats off your plate? How does that make you feel?

A boundary violation like this makes me so angry. I don’t know why — I’m just as bad, just in a different way.

When I slip into being nice, I feel like I’m scraping food off my plate onto yours. And you didn’t even ask for it!

I’m a wobbly piece on a chessboard who can’t seem to stay on my own square. In less than a heartbeat, before I can even think, I fall out of my square to take care of someone else on their square. I do this without asking their permission. Half the time they don’t even want my help.

I’m less effective once I leave my square on the board. I’m not grounded in who I am or what I can offer. When I leave my square, I can’t make my own chess moves in the game of life. I’m busy placating someone else. I’ve paused the game.

After over 50 years of practice, I still find it easier to be nice. It takes more out of me to be kind. In converting my positive, loving, generous character into kindness, I have to force myself to build a new skill: figuring out what I want. And that can be effing exhausting!

What does this distinction (kind versus nice) mean to you?

photo credit: Mick Haupt/Unsplash