the challenging choice to be an empathic parent

Empathy can be a challenge. The obvious reason is that it can be hard to see things from another person’s perspective. It can be hard to imagine how they are seeing things and why they feel or act in a certain way. Another obvious reason is that it involves the personal sacrifice that Brené refers to in the video; going into those dark places within yourself and your experiences that help you to connect with the other person’s dark place.

The less obvious reason is that it takes time and effort. This is because the only way you can truly show empathy is by listening and listening for long enough to get the full picture. Not part of it with some additions and assumptions that you have tacked on. But all of it and by all of it I mean all of what they want to share; all of what is important to them. You have to just BE with them in a non-judgmental way and wait until it’s all come out.

It takes effort. It takes intention. It is generous.

It aids connection.

It is what we all need.

On the Monday of my son’s last week of term I waited in the school playground at the end of the day for him. As the children started coming out his teacher caught my eye and then proceeded to walk over to me. Uh oh. What every parent dreads…

“We had a bit of an issue today. B punched another boy in the face and gave him a nose bleed.”

Argh. Apparently, he had said he was trying to catch the boy during a game in the playground. Immediately I’m awash with extreme discomfort. My child is a sociopath. What will the other parent think? What am I doing wrong?!  

I had given the teacher a letter the week before to explain that we were moving and it may affect B’s behaviour. So, she expresses that it could be about that and I agree.

So, there I am thinking that I am practising good empathy by trying to be understanding about the emotions behind the behaviour. I try to talk to him on the way back to his friend’s house and he isn’t paying attention. I get annoyed. I want a quick answer to reassure me of my worries. Why did you do it? For the love of all things good and pure, WHY??

It wasn’t a good time to go there when he wanted to gallop along with his friends. Thankfully, I had a belated brainwave when we got home later on and took him outside to pick blackberries by himself and we chatted.

Oh my, trying to get information from a five-year-old can prove difficult. It’s like trying to have a tennis rally with one. You keep serving balls and they either fall to the ground or get volleyed in another direction. One thing you can guarantee is they rarely make it over the net back to you.

But I wasn’t giving up easy.

I managed to discover that they were playing Rescue Bots and the victim was the ‘bad guy’ of this imaginative scenario. There was a moment when I asked B if he did it for a certain reason and he said yes. But I realised I probably put that idea in his head. So I tried again, hoping to avoid putting words in his mouth.

“So, did you just get carried away pretending?”

I failed.

“Yeah!”

“If you do that, your friends won’t want to play with you. Just because he’s the bad guy, it doesn’t mean you can hit him.”

“Yeah! Like Gru.”

Just then, the penny dropped. This nugget of information just popped out after what felt like a fairly long time of chatting in a non-confrontational way.

The following day, B was going on a school trip to watch Despicable Me 3 as an end of year treat and that morning he had been anxious about it. He was worried he might get scared during it and we wouldn’t be there with him. So we showed him a trailer. during which, Gru punches the bad guy square in the face and because it is hilariously timed, my husband and I burst out laughing without giving it much thought.

Apparently, five-year-olds can’t instinctively discern the difference between finding punching funny when it’s done in a movie and when it’s done in real life, causing a nose bleed. Who knew?

I never could have assumed that such an innocent, age-appropriate reason was behind it. Instead, I leapt to my own conclusion regarding his inner turmoil about moving. If I hadn’t taken that 15 minutes to gently probe the issue I’d have been left feeling like I had raised an up-and-coming school bully with whom I felt completely disconnected.

I know why you did that is a statement that doesn’t line up with empathy… Instead:

Tell me why you did that. I’m listening…

A WIP for me.

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love all the things that make you strong

We have moved, and I’m tired. I want to reconnect with you all and my writing but I just can’t be bothered. So I’m telling you this in order to get myself going.

There’s so much I could write about regarding the last couple of months. But for today, I’m going to share a poem with you.

Walk through life
Beautiful more than anything
Stand in the sunlight
Walk through life
Love all the things
That make you strong,
be lovers, be anything
For all the people of
Earth

You have brothers
You love each other, change up
And look at the world
Now, it’s
Our’s, take it slow
We’ve got a long time, a long way
To go,

We have
Each other, and the
World,
Don’t be sorry
Walk on out through sunlight life
and know
We’re on the go
For love
To open
Our lives
To walk
Tasting the sunshine
Of Life.

“Answers in Progress” by Amiri Baraka

Source: Brain Pickings by Maria Popova

Popova states that this poem is “a bewitching poem-song that pours in from the boulevard as the protagonists walk through town after an alien invasion.”

It’s an incredible thought; to imagine walking through a world that was nearly stolen from you. How naturally and intensely gratitude would flow. I’m inclined to think that without change and challenge we can grow complacent in gratitude.

Gratitude has helped me to tread water when I’ve felt adrift through this mega change we have undertaken. I love the reminder this poem brings that we have each other, and we have the world. We can draw life, restoration, peace and gratitude from the world around us wherever we go, if we choose to look.

During our last week in Worthing, we had several trips to the beach and the kids took up the occupation of collecting shells. As I helped them, I felt overwhelmed by the beauty and variety of the stones on the beach I had spent 30 years of my life living nearby. It sounds so trite and you might be anticipating that the next bit of news is that I have joined a naturist group. I haven’t.

It was in anticipation of leaving a town by the sea that heightened my appreciation. On our second-to-last morning we went for breakfast with a family member at a cafe on the beach and I was quite tearful. We found ourselves collecting shells and I promised the kids we would put them in a glass jar on the windowsill in their new bedroom.

Post-move, bank holiday Monday, and it was sweltering so I decided to take the kids to a beach. It would be on the Kent coast and therefore completely new to us. Apparently heading towards Dover on bank holiday Monday, the last week of the summer holidays, is not a good idea. FYI.

Three hours later and we were in Whitstable, walking along the seafront to find a spot on the beach. What an interesting place!

stones.jpg

 

After a dip in the sea we started to look for shells and as I looked I noticed how different the stones were from the ones in Worthing. Even the shells were completely different.

I am very aware that you might not really be “getting me” on this. But perhaps you can think of a time of upheaval, challenge, or even pain, when something about the world around you managed to sustain and/or refresh you. It was restorative to me and I felt grateful that this move that had been exhausting and heart-wrenching had introduced me to this new place and these new stones on the shore of the North Sea.

 

grief: why i sometimes wish i would cry more

which pain is worse

Today is my dad’s birthday. Due to moving I have been looking at photos and memorabilia after emptying our loft at the weekend. Dad has been on my mind a lot. I have come to realise that one of the aspects of moving that is emotionally draining is that you are confronted with your entire personal history as everything you own passes through your hands, either into a box, or into the bin/charity shop bag.

Yet, despite all this, I haven’t shed a single tear.

What I have found myself doing is struggling to remember what food Dad liked to eat. I have felt oddly detached from my memories. I have also found myself feeling that utter disbelief as if this is something farcical. How could he not be here, celebrating his 57th birthday?

Last week, my Mum was visiting and we took the dog out for a walk to the park. We reached the park quickly, as one does when one is dragged there, and started down the path around the perimeter. Chatting about the move, my Mum said:

I bet you won’t miss living in this area!

No, I won’t!

(As much as I enjoy being woken in the middle of the night by drunk lads stopping cars for a laugh).

Just as we reached the corner, we heard a woman crying. Across the street was a young couple (mid-twenties or so) and the woman was very distressed. To say she was crying doesn’t really do it justice. She was wailing. Whom I presumed was her boyfriend/partner was with her and looked a bit flustered. I wasn’t sure what to do and living in an area where it’s not rare to hear people shouting and making a scene had made me hesitant.

But my wonderful Mum was straight in there. She marched over the road muttering if they needed help. I stood there knowing that if I took a highly energetic dog over there he would jump all over them, which this young woman might not appreciate, having now dropped to the ground.

Mum sat on the pavement next to her and barely any time had passed before she was rubbing her back and saying encouraging things. This poor girl was sobbing uncontrollably. I wandered over there and heard Mum offering words of comfort. I handed her my key in case they wanted a cup of tea and departed to resume my dog walk as said dog was starting to growl in response to her wailing.

Twenty minutes passed and Mum hadn’t come to join me. I went back and she was still sitting with them. The woman had quietened down and Mum was still gently rubbing her back. Then a car pulled up and they stood. A lady got out and hugged the young woman, who then embraced Mum and they said goodbye.

Mum walked over to me with a few snail trails of tears down her face.

Her Mum is dying. They had just gotten home from the hospital, which is an hour away, thinking she was OK then got a call not long after they walked through the door saying they should go back.

Part of the woman’s distress was having left in the first place. Heartbreaking. Life can be so cruel. As we walked through the park I said to Mum:

Well, she’ll grieve well if she has no concern over crying like that.

Afterwards, I thought about this more… Why did I say that?

“Tearless grief bleeds inwardly.” — Christian Nevell Bovee 

I guess most of us know the impact of crying and the release it can bring. A psychiatry professor from the University of Pittsburgh has done various studies on crying.

Not only can crying help in the healing process of grief, but those who can’t cry when they lose someone they love often are much more vulnerable to depression and other health problems. “When people hold back their tears, it does seem to lead to mental and physical problems,” she says. “It takes a lot of effort to hold back tears.”

Lauren Bylsma, quoted in an article by Mark Roth in Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

In her studies of thousands of men and women and their experiences of crying she notes that it is cathartic in situations where the problem is resolved.

Of course, the death of a loved one can’t be resolved, but the study also notes that people can get a sense of catharsis if the crying gives them new insights into their suffering. One of those revelations is that even if you can’t be with the people you lost, you can be comforted by your memories of them.

For this young woman, her crying didn’t really change anything. The painful experience was yet to fully unfold. However, by being willing to let herself go, wherever, whenever, she was able to experience the kindness of a stranger. Kindness that encouraged her that we make the best decisions with the information we have at the time and amongst everything going on, she needn’t feel like she’d made a bad decision.

As they said farewell, the woman asked Mum what her name was. When Mum said it the woman burst into tears.

That’s my Mum’s name. 

Yes, crying doesn’t bring the person back. There will probably be more tears to come. Over, and over, and over again. Never running dry.

But if we can push through the shame-barrier that tells us we mustn’t lose it in full sight of the world, we might find our pain is met and embraced by a kind, wonderful stranger or friend, who somehow, makes it easier to bear.

I felt envious as I pondered her freedom to express her pain. I don’t know why I rarely cry, despite the pent up emotion I can feel, but I’m grateful for her example. It takes a willingness to fully embrace the pain and allow yourself to feel it, as that’s what triggers the tears.

But sometimes, it’s just too big and frightening.