Where in the hell has my empathy gone? In a matter of two hours, I successfully made two of my three children cry by being unempathetic. My son got a boo-boo and my fourteen month old was having trouble sleeping at bedtime — two completely acceptable things to seek empathy for at their respective ages. Yet, I refused to give it to them. Instead, I chastised them. Yep, I know what you are thinking — I should definitely be nominated for “Mother of the Year”. Yeah, right…maybe “Bi**h of the Year”…that one I might have earned.
Okay…I am being a little hard on myself, but for real…I find myself asking, “where has your empathy gone, Nicole?”
When you have your first baby, you are so enthralled with that tiny, yet amazing and beautiful human being you created. I would say that my empathy even lasted through my first born’s toddler years. I don’t believe it was until I had my subsequent children, that I became truly unempathetic, at times, and more so with each child.
Psychology Today defines empathy as “the experience of understanding another person’s condition from their perspective. You place yourself in their shoes and feel what they are feeling”. Empathy is a hard concept for children to completely understand and it is even harder for them to apply the principal of it. It is also challenging for them to differentiate empathy with sympathy, compassion and understanding; all of which are in the same realm. But, for us adults, the application of empathy in any situation lending itself towards such, should be almost second-nature — it should happen almost like a knee-jerk reaction. So, why is it that I am not having that reaction to and for my children?
I think the answer lies in the fact that I feel stretched so thin. When either parent (typically the mother) is and has been the children’s lifeline and go-to person, all day, every day, for the fourteen months, three years or five years their children have been alive, this can be exhausting. It is physically and emotionally draining to be wanted and needed that much, by that many people, all at the same time. Add to it trying to manage a household and get some work done and you’ve just poured more boiling water in the already steaming pot.
But, this should not be my excuse. It is not an excuse. When a person decides to have a child or multiple children you give up any right to blame any of your shortcomings on them. You wanted this. You asked for this. You made this happen.
It is completely unfair and irresponsible of me to blame my lack of empathy on the fact that I am stressed out because of my children. Parenthood should not stifle my empathy, but rather should expand my empathetic potential. I more than anything want to raise children who are empathetic and kind human beings. This is truly my goal in life. But, if kids, learn and understand empathy much better when it is illustrated with examples, then what a poor example I have been setting for them.
Empathy is a life and social skill that we need to be teaching to our children from the moment they are born. I would venture to say that some would even contend that we can begin to teach empathy while the child is still in the womb. Regardless, once our kiddies are here for us to hold, we should work our darnedest to ensure that empathy is taught to them.
Learning about empathy opens up your child for so much more learning. Empathetic children tend to be curious about those around them and curiosity is a great character strength. Empathetic adults typically dispel any preconceptions and prejudices they have towards other and rather look towards and for commonalities with others; another sign of a person with strength of character. Being an empathetic adult or child can also be fun; it can be exhilarating and inspiring to gain direct experience of/with other people’s lives.
Last night I was unempathetic to my children; as is the case on many occasions. But, what some introspection has done for me is to come to the realization that for me to be truly empathetic to them, I have to step outside of my own emotions (stressed, tired, frustrated, etc) and view their situation with compassion. I have a feeling that I will amaze myself when I remind myself how good it feels to extend empathy and grace to someone in need of such.
A lot of research has suggested that empathy is like a chain reaction and that those who receive empathy are more likely to give it. I don’t want to be the break in the chain…
I need to find my empathy. I am going to find my empathy.