This morning, let’s talk about compassion (identifying our common struggles) and empathy (letting others know they’re not alone).
Raise your hand if you want your child to show compassion and empathy for others. OK, that’s pretty much everyone in the audience. Put your hands down.
Now, raise your hand if you want your child to suffer. Anyone? Anyone? *crickets*
Most of us agree that it’s painful to watch our child get hurt (physically or emotionally). So painful, in fact, that it triggers the Mama or Papa Bear in us and we come out swinging against the person or situation that is causing our child pain.
But, what if I told you that suffering is at the root of compassion and empathy?
Really. Uncomfortable. Thought.
I get it. So, let’s leave our children’s suffering aside for a moment, because I have a story to tell you about my own journey towards compassion. Before I became a mom, I thought that parents who, in my lofty opinion, didn’t have their act together deserved zero compassion. ZERO.
I had a long list of parenting choices I would never make (screens, junk food, yelling at my kids) and I had an even longer list of behaviors my children would never exhibit (because they were going to be Montessori children). I looked down my nose at those “hot mess” moms and their unruly kids who broke my rules for a perfect life.
And so, of course, the gods sent me two beautiful, loud, demanding, free-spirited children to take me down a notch or fifty. Now, after seven years of being dragged through the parenting rodeo, I’m a proud card-carrying member of the Hot-Mess Moms club.
Do I still judge other moms? Yes. For about two seconds. But then a voice inside me says, “Psst. Girlfriend… Take a look in the mirror!” That’s the voice of compassion. (I thought the voice of compassion would sound like Pema Chodron. Yeah, no.) When I hear that voice, my resistance to accepting my own imperfect humanity and that of others melts away.
Now here’s the thing: My lack of compassion for other parents stemmed not from being a bad person, but from not having lived through the struggles of parenthood.
So how does all this tie back to our children? Well, if we want them to feel compassion, we need to let them connect with the struggles of others by letting them struggle a little bit themselves.
And if we want them to learn how to show empathy, we need to connect empathically with them post-struggle. Let’s put aside our “I told you so’s” and “You’re OK’s”… When we suffer, all we want to hear and know is “You’re not alone.”