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Empathetic parenthood

"We have all been children and have hadWhen I was teaching parenting classes in Portland nearly two decades ago I had one parent in the class who was there because she’d been mandated by child protective services. I don’t know the whole story but I knew that she didn’t want to be there. She made it clear that she resented having to sit there listening to a youngster many years her junior (me) who didn’t even have any kids yet.

I can’t say that I blamed her.

Fortunately the other parents in the class were there to help her process the information in a loving, respectful way that she could hear.

At one point we were talking about how children have their own experiences in the day beyond what we might witness. I don’t know how she got the message — I think another parent was telling a story about her child in school — but she burst into tears and said, “I had no idea, I had no idea. I never thought that maybe she could have her own bad day or be in her own bad mood.”

It was such a powerful moment.

From that point of the class on she was able to talk about her children’s experiences with compassion and empathy. The class was not easy for her — she was away from her kids and she was confronting a lot of things she wished she’d done differently — but I hope that what she learned there she was able to bring back to her relationships with her children.

It can be difficult to remember what it’s like to be small or even smallish. It’s especially hard to do if we weren’t allowed the full scope of our feelings. If we were treated harshly, we may have stuffed some feelings down so deep that we don’t know how to remember what it’s like to be scared or sad or to feel hopelessly overwhelmed by the big wide world and our small place in it. If we have that extra challenge then we can practice imagining. We can picture what it must be like to worry that we will suffocate if we fall asleep with a stuffy nose. Or to not have the experience to know that one lost book report won’t derail our scholastic dreams.

When we remember or can imagine what it feels like to be a child, it’s easier to know how to react with the firm and loving support that our children need.

When you don’t like your kids

tantrum-insideFirst of all, I want to apologize in advance if this post doesn’t make much sense. I’m writing it late Monday night and I seem to be heading into a lousy autumn cold (as if there’s any other kind of autumn cold) so I’m a little woozy. Plus side: It’s not a summer cold. Summer colds are way worse than autumn colds.

Anyway!

If you’ve got kids, I bet there have been times when you don’t like them very much. Maybe you feel guilty about that but you know I’m an anti-guilt crusader so I’m here to tell you that I haven’t met a parent yet (and I’ve met a lot of parents) who likes their children 100% of the time. This is because kids — like most people — sometimes get on our nerves and just as we don’t always like our partners, our parents, our best friends or anyone else we normally adore, we aren’t always going to like our kids.

That’s OK. Usually not liking your children is a sign that something needs to be shaken up; either your kids are in a stuck mode or you’re in a stuck mode. It’s painful to be at odds with your children and since we’re the grown ups and better at this whole relationship thing (theoretically), we’re going to need to be the ones who change even if they’re the ones behaving in ways that are really not likeable.

I know, it’s not fair but parenting rarely is.

So if your kids is being thoroughly awful and you’re really not enjoying them, you have some things to consider.

  1. Is this a developmental stage? Do you need to adjust your expectations or parenting tools?
  2. Is this one bad mood (yours or your child’s) and you can hug or laugh your way through it? Can you take a breather or hit do-over? Pop in a movie, have peanut butter toast for dinner and take the heat off of all of you?
  3. Is this a serious problem that needs serious help? Is this more than a bad day or a bad week? Is your child also making it hard for other loving people in his or her life? Is your child making it hard for him or herself?
  4. Is this your developmental stage? Do you need to look at your life beyond parenting? Are you needing a break from your kids or a change in some other part of your life that’s eating you up?

Like I said, it’s normal to dislike your kids sometimes and you don’t need to feel badly about it especially if you use it to inspire change. Find a trusted friend (or therapist) who can help you figure out what’s really going on and can maybe help you discover some solutions. Dust off your favorite old parenting book or see if there’s a sequel if your child has grown out of that stage. Or come check out my parenting classes next time I teach them (you can sign up for my newsletter to get a heads up) because this is just the kind of thing we talk about.

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