When Jaime Primak Sullivan took her three children, ages 8, 7, and 5 out for ice cream after dinner the other night, she probably didn't expect that going for dessert would turn into a teaching moment for them, or that her simple act of parenting would go viral.
Sullivan, who hosts Cawfeetawk, a daily video series on Facebook that she described to A Plus as "rooted in social responsibility, human connection, and kindness" took to her wall to describe what happened.
"So ... I am the meanest mom ever ... Like ... Ever." the post begins.
"Took the kids to Dairy Queen after dinner. They ordered their dessert choices and we waited about five minutes for them to call out our number. The young lady (maybe 17) handed each child their ice cream. Not one looked her in the eye. Not one said thank you. Not to her, not to me ...
So I waited. I counted to 10 in my head as they dug into their ice cream and the young lady just looked at me (probably because she thought I was hearing voices) and I watched as my children strolled out the door. I followed them outside where I calmly collected their ice creams and my kids watched in horror as I deposited them into the nearby garbage can. All three launched into mass hysteria. I waited. Quiet. Calm. When they realized I had something to say, they quieted down.
I explained that one day, if they were lucky, they would work a job like that young lady. And I would hope that people would see them. Really see them. Look them in the eye and say thank you. We are too old at 8/7/5 to move through our days without exercising manners and honestly basic human decency.
So today, I am the meanest mom in the world."
We talked to Jaime Sullivan about parenting and the value of teaching kindness.
In a frank phone interview, Sullivan stated plainly that it wasn't until after her twenties that she began to re-examine the way her behavior affected others and then sought to change.
"I was a bully my whole life," she told A Plus. Slowly she began to realize that in order to make the world better, she would have to make herself better. "I got tired of saying society needs to change. I am society," she said, describing her personal shift in perspective that she hopes to instill in her children. "I'm not a 'selfie' person. It's not about self. It's about us."
"I don't want my kids to operate in a 'selfie' mentality," she said. "I want them to be inclusionists ... I want them to be the ones who say 'wanna play with me?' I want my children to want to include kids and look back and see their mother saying 'I'm proud of you.' "
We talked about the message behind the moment at Dairy Queen.
"It's not enough to say please and thank you: we have to see people ... My children need to see the individual value in people."
"I want them to be the people who build a bigger table when there's not enough room for other people."
Cawfeetawk is part of helping to build that bigger table.
Sullivan, whose first book, The Southern Education of a Jersey Girl, is due to be published in August by Simon & Schuster, attributes her success to her viewers: the "Cawfeetawk Planet." She seeks to use social media as part of a "dialogue started about the importance of kindness."
"None of what I do with Cawfeetawk would be possible without these incredible people who genuinely want to be better ... who let me into their lives, into their hearts every morning," she says. "It's my way of giving back every day."
Sullivan received both Facebook criticism and praise for her actions.
So far the post has gathered over 132,000 reactions on Facebook that span the spectrum of Facebook commentary. "Thank you for instilling into your children manners and plain human decency!" wrote one reader, who received over 5000 likes. "In my opinion, I thought that was a bit over the top," wrote one critic who thought the mother of three had gone too far.
In a follow-up video, Sullivan said, "I don't want my children to be the kids who look past people."
For Jaime Sullivan, there's more at stake than just Facebook comments.
Cover image via Jaime Primak Sullivan.