As the Family Goes

JP II Quote

"As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live." John Paul II

Friday, October 21, 2016

Empathy in Parenting

My little guy has been temperamental this week.  He's just getting over a bad cold, complete with sore throat and ear aches, and so mid-morning meltdowns have been common. He's also very adventurous, and given his disposition this week less than patient with our constant efforts to keep him safe. Two days ago from about 11:00 am on he just cried.  He did not want to be picked up or consoled or fed, just to cry.  It is a scene that has been on repeat for the past week, and with so many other activities filling up our day it can be quite frustrating.

As I prepared to put him down for his afternoon nap that day, even though he was fighting against me (because he knows that if I start rocking and singing a lullaby, bedtime is inevitable!) I felt a surge of empathy for this little guy.  I had been sick too, and only slightly more composed than he was, so I knew where he was coming from.  I remembered a conversation we had with my brother-in-law the last time he was home for a visit, when we were all my inlaws home and Jeff and I, being the proactive parents we are, took turns diving at the baby to remove him from an object that could hurt him or be broken, or both (which is a lot, because as I mentioned he's very adventurous!)  My brother-in-law said, "it must suck to be a baby and walk around thinking, 'oooooooo, that's interesting!' only to have it snatched away every time!"  We all laughed about it, and the baby was his usual pleasant and happy-go-lucky self that day and quite tolerant of our parenting efforts.  But this day, he was not.  So I remembered my brother-in-law's words and conceded: sometimes it does suck to be a baby...especially a sick one.  And instead of giving in to the frustration, I consoled him.

Empathy is one of those things that has often been elusive to me as a parent.  I'll be honest, there is a lot going on in my day, and most of the time I just react to that.  It's hard in a heated moment to take a step back and put yourself in your child's shoes. But it is so, so necessary, and as I saw that day, can make a complete difference in my position towards my child.  I remember realizing this with a troublesome three-year-old once, and it made approaching this difficult age a little easier (if only for a moment) to put myself in their shoes and acknowledge that, in an age of such autonomy and desiring to grow and become independent, hearing Mom always say no is very frustrating!  Empathy is as much for me as it is for the child, we are both better when I stop taking bad behaviour personally, and learn to see from their perspective.

When I think of all of this, immediately my heart is turned to my older children. And I realize that if I have allowed empathy to be elusive with my little ones, I have made it even more scarce with them.  So much of my parenting is focused on trying to teach them respect, and when their personalities come into play it's easy for things to escalate quickly. With the littler ones it doesn't take too much effort for me to realize they don't know why they're behaving this way, or that this is a fact of their circumstance.  But with the older kids if I'm honest I see that I take a lot of it much more personally.  Maybe that's because they're older and more able to reason.  But that day, rocking my sick little baby as he fought against me and being flooded with tenderness for this sweet baby of mine even in his temper tantrum, my heart was also turned to my older kids.  I knew in that moment that I needed to have empathy for them also, and I knew it would take a lot more work.  I don't remember what it was like to be a baby, but I surely do remember being the ages my older kids are.  Putting myself in their shoes should not be more difficult, I just need to make an effort to actually do it.

When I think about Christ I know that this is what He did best.  He never condemned, and he never took anyone's actions personally.  He always met people where they were with love.  I recently heard a convert to the faith speak about Christ's encounter with Mary Magdalene.  He said what stood out most to him was that in all of Christ's dealings with her, he never once used the word "adulterer".  She knew that was what she was, the whole world knew it, but for Christ it wasn't necessary.  His love for her, His tenderness brought about her conversion - His empathy.  This is the kind of parent I want to be.  I realize that empathy does not condone or excuse, it just loves.  It meets and accompanies, and walks through difficult times together with tenderness. This is the kind of parent I want to be.

O Christ, help me to imitate you, so that like you I can love my children through the most difficult times, and lead them to You.

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