You'll notice that the title of this blog, "Heal. Grow. Love: Thoughts on fostering growth through empathy", implies that empathy is the key to nurturing healing, growth/development, and loving connection between people. And, since this blog is specifically for parents, that means that empathy is the key to promoting healing, growth and loving connection in children.
To clarify, empathy, as I see it, is having a genuine understanding and appreciation for the point of view that another person has, whether or not you fundamentally agree with it. It is about saying, "Yes, I can see how this you would perceive this situation in this way and have these kinds of feelings about it", whether or not you think you think their experience or perception is a fair, accurate or just one.
I propose that, only when children feel understood, can they be open to hearing and possibly understanding your (adult) perspective...and perhaps agreeing with you.
Isn't that the way we all are?
I have never worried about messing something up as much as I worry about messing up as a parent! Am I alone in this??
If that sentiment resonates with you, you're in good company...and so am I :)
There is nothing more important to parents than "getting it right" with our children. Of course, we can't be perfect - no one can expect that from themselves or anyone else - but, we can be "good enough".
But, when it comes to parenting, what is "good enough"? When you think about most other things - like pulling weeds, or raking leaves, or tidying up your room - most of us have a pretty good idea of what "good enough" is. But "good enough parenting"? That's anxiety provoking.
But, yet, that's realistic and the only thing that is actually possible.
So, if you know what "good enough weeding" is in your garden, it must be possible to define what "good enough parenting" is for you and your children.
If you base it on your deepest values, unconditional love and an abiding commitment to "be there" your children, what do you think "good enough parenting" is?
Whohoo!!! I can't help but celebrate!
Today is the end of the current school year (at least, locally, for most students in Canada...). While I don't have any school aged children of my own to celebrate this with (and in truth, I do NOT miss those days!), I have oh so many children & families that I work with who are celebrating today. It's a big deal!
For me, the biggest reason to celebrate is the end of the rush and hurry that families have to undertake to get kids out the door, get them sorted out at the end of the day, and get them to bed so they get enough sleep to function the next day! That doesn't include the stress of daily household chores, mealtimes, extracurricular activities and homework! Summer holidays are truly a much needed break! A chance to breathe and re-set.
So, for today, I'm just sending out warm, fuzzy, loving thoughts to all parents and school aged children wishing you a very happy last week of school and a wonderful start to summer holidays!! Enjoy!
I honestly have not met anyone who appreciates having constraints placed on them.
Anything from time to money to access to resources to our own skills can be constrained. We have deadlines, budgets, limits to what technology can do, very real limits to what we are capable of doing.
If there were no constraints, there would be no problems to be solved; no challenges to push against; nothing to shape our own unique growth, learning and development.
Our task then becomes, figuring out how we can live our best life despite those constraints.
When you think of the constraints in your life, what level of creativity have they brought out in you? What have you learned as a result of the challenges you've faced? In the process, what have you learned about how to help your children engage fully in facing challenges and addressing the constraints in their lives?
I was just looking over yesterday's post (about feelings !) and found an "imperfection" - a typo, likely! There is extra spacing between one paragraph and the next. And yes, I was tempted to just edit it this morning!
And...if you hadn't noticed it, you can check out the blog post by clicking this link and find it!
You will see that I did NOT "fix" it.
Well, earlier this morning, I was reading about "perfectionism" - that trait that can be both a blessing and a curse. I remember describing myself as a perfectionist in early job interviews, typically outlining both sides of the coin - it helped me do "high quality work", but also sometimes got me hung up on details, working to the last minute to get everything "perfect". I soon realized that, even though I was being offered jobs, I wasn't sure if describing myself as a perfectionist was a selling feature for hiring me or not? So, I stopped describing myself that way and worked to change this aspect of myself. Not editing the typo after publishing the last post is one way I continue with this practice - accepting "good enough", because it is!
So, what's the problem with perfectionism if you still get things done on time? Well, nothing in the practical sense, because if you are completing things on time to a "high" standard, people will come to see you as being someone who consistently puts out high quality work. But in the "INTRA-personal sense" (how you may feel about yourself), it can mean that you think that you have to be perfect in order to be important, valued and cared for.
This is mildly troubling in the context of a "work" situation, but in a family situation, this is painful. If I were to agree with the sentence, "I am not important, valued and cared for by my family unless I am perfect.", I would be accepting a lifetime of feeling unimportant, unvalued and disconnected from those I care most about. That's unacceptable.
Letting go of perfectionism - as a personal adjective or a way of life - frees you to feel connected to those around you. And when YOU let go of perfectionism in yourself, you give your children permission to let go of it as well....which means you all have the opportunity to experience feeling important, valued and connected to one another. That's even better than perfect!
How can you let go of perfectionism for yourself - and your children - today?
It's a rainy morning here. The clouds are hanging low, the rain is pitter-pattering on my roof, and it's dark for this time of day at this time of year. The weather creates a mood - "atmosphere", if you will (pun intended!).
As I sit here on this gloomy morning, I think of an image in the book, "The Way I Feel" (by Janan Cain) of a boy sitting on his couch, looking out the window at the rain, with a baseball and baseball bat lying on the floor, feeling "bored and blue".
If you were his parent, what would you do?
If you're anything like me (i.e. human!) you'd be tempted to get him off the couch and do something else by saying something like, "Come on! No point being sad about the weather. Why don't you find something else to do!" and then list off all the things you think he could do. Of course, this approach would probably just trigger a frustrated response from him and get you both into an argument.
Yet, when we look at the picture on that page, it's so clear that ANYONE would feel "bored and blue" in that context. Probably disappointed too. His hopes to play baseball were dashed by something beyond his control, and while it's true there's nothing productive that can come from "feeling miserable about the weather", we all know that it's a reasonable feeling to have. Anyone seeing that image can totally relate to feeling sad when the weather (or any other random factor that is out of out control) interrupts our plans for the day. We'd be sad and disappointed too. So why can't we just say that?
What if, instead of working to get that boy off the couch and doing something else, we just acknowledged his reality and said something like, "It's disappointing that it's too rainy to play baseball, isn't it? I'd feel sad too if my plans were ruined by the weather." What might happen then? Perhaps he would agree with you, switch gears and be able to move on to another activity.
Give it a try sometime. What do you have to lose?
I have had the opportunity to think and talk about my grade 5 Teacher today, Mrs. Royal.
Mrs. Royal was an unexpected gift in my life. She was a substitute teacher who was assigned to our class after our regular teacher took a leave early in the school year. Without any reservations, I can honestly say that she was my favourite teacher and changed my life. Why? Because, while other teachers saw and extolled my weaknesses, she saw and shared her observations about my strengths while offering NO commentary about my weaknesses. Frankly, I had no idea I had strengths until I met her.
What I had known about myself prior to meeting Mrs. Royal was that I talked too much and needed to learn to sit still more and could learn better if only I applied myself - whatever that meant! I was a C student with a few B's at best and did not know - could not imagine - I was capable of more. She saw ME. She saw MORE. And because SHE saw more, I saw more and have never looked back.
It only takes one adult... One caring adult... One wise, compassionate, caring adult to SEE a child as they are, to value that child as they are, and to SEE what they are capable of being, doing, becoming. Without having to DO anything about it beyond bearing witness and acknowledging that they SEE those strengths. From that point, a child can BE, DO, ACHIEVE and BECOME anything they want to.
Who was your favourite teacher? Why?
How do you know when your child needs something?
When they were infants it was easy - they cried. You still had to decode the meaning. Were they hungry, tired, in pain, sick, uncomfortable in their dirty diaper, or just needing your company? But the list seemed relatively short and you were generally able to figure it out.
Somehow...once they learn to talk and demonstrate more complex emotional attitudes, it can become more challenging. They don't always say what they mean and mean what they say. Sometimes they don't seem to know what they need or maybe don't know how to ask for it.
What if we recognized that they had the same needs - we all do - throughout their lives. No, seriously. They just express them "differently" as they grow up.
That eye-roll could mean, "I'm tired", but by the time we've figured that out, we're already in the middle of a telling them off for rolling their eyes at us! They may have had earlier "cues" that they were tired that we missed entirely, but we did not miss the eye-roll...
That cranky tone could mean, "I'm hungry", but they haven't realized it, and because we sent them to time out for using that tone with us, they didn't get a needed snack, so they were cranky all evening too.
When you boil it all down, their needs never really change. When they express a "negative" emotion (usually through a behaviour we don't like!), it's because they're hungry, tired, in pain, sick, uncomfortable (for more complicated reasons....hopefully not because of a dirty diaper!) or just needing your company. And so, what they need from you is essentially the same - help to identify and address their basic needs.
Don't believe me? Think about the last time you were "cranky". What were you really needing?
You're awake. Alert (hopefully). And ready to take on your day.
So what do you want? What kind of day do you want to have? What's the most important thing you want...today?
If you're not sure how to answer that question, you wouldn't be alone. It's not always an easy question to answer because it sometimes feels really selfish to think about what we "want".
Let's try a work around. What is your intention for this day? And, yes, I know the expression, "the road to hell is paved with good intentions". But...I think it's also true that, without any intentions, we may be walking down that road anyway!
So, what if, just for today, you intended to stay curious and open to possibilities? What might happen? What might you learn? What might you understand? What might you experience?
What if, just for today, you intended to engage in your life with courage, or compassion, or joy or...? What then? What might this day look like? Feel like? What might your experience be like? How might others experience you? How might your children experience you?
Pause - just for a moment - and pick an intention for today...
We all want to teach our children our values. But how? I wrote (briefly) about values in a previous post about creating rules for your family.
But how else can we teach our kids our values? Possibly by just living them.
Sounds so easy, doesn't it? If "children learn what they live", then if we parents live our values, they'll learn them and live them. But how? That's the hard part. No really....that's the REALLY hard part.
Say you value "honesty". How do you live that value? By being honest. Simple, right? Except, here's the rub. The only time you can REALLY demonstrate that you value honesty is when you're tempted to lie because, if you tell the truth, you'll face some undesirable consequence or negative outcome.
It's what we expect of our children. If they've done something "wrong", we expect them to be honest and tell us, even at the risk of some kind of punishment or negative outcome. Haven't we told our children that, while they'll still get a punishment for whatever they've done, it would be worse if they lied? If they broke Mom's favourite vase and lied about it, they'd be grounded for longer than if they just admitted to breaking the vase in the first place?
For us grownups, it would be like admitting that you were in fact speeding through that school zone. Or that you did cheat on that test. Or that you did (already) tell a lie to someone to avoid some other negative consequence.
Essentially, we only demonstrate what we truly value when there is a risk that living them will come with a price. That's the price of the value we profess.
It's not easy. Or cheap. In the long run, the price of not living them will potentially be paid by our children as they struggle to learn to live them.