On empathy, and how it helps me and my oldest son

J’s most common response when baby C cries is to furl his brow, put his hands over his ears and start screaming himself.  I started by trying to explain to J how it would actually be in his best interest to stay quiet, since his screaming would probably only make C cry more. That explanation didn’t get much traction.

So I’ve been trying to connect with J about it.

I don’t like it when he cries either. It’s loud, huh?

Empathizing with him like this has been relieving some of my pent up anxiety, and I’ve realized how much J and I have in common here. I really don’t like it either. And if I weren’t commissioned as the caretaker in this scenario, I might be moved to go for the screaming option too.

I’ve also been taking the empathy a step further, thanks to some advice from my dreamy therapist. She recommended that I try and stretch J’s awareness, and point out that while he feels mad right now that C is crying, he also feels love for C sometimes too.

I’ve been saying stuff like this:

I see you’re feeling really angry that C is crying. I don’t like it when he cries either. Remember this morning when you were playing with C and laughing? Isn’t it crazy that you feel angry at him right now and that you also felt all that love this morning?

Lo and behold, when I’m saying this stuff to him, it reminds me of the same thing–to see things in terms of both/and rather than either/or.

Hey there, self, I see that you’re feeling scared that you’ve been up for 2 hours in the middle of the night trying to get C to go to sleep. And now you’re wondering if the decision to have him was a huge mistake. Remember when you were taking a shower the other day and you thought that having C might be the best thing you’ve ever done? Well, both things are true.

Both things are true.

And if I can just take a breath and stick with my life for another 5 minutes or 10 hours or week, the feeling I’m having will change into another and another and another. And they’ll all be true.

Yesterday, J stopped me in my tracks as we were talking again about C’s crying. He said (in that wonderfully casual and earnest way that only he can), “I love him when he’s crying too.”

Well, knock me over and call me Nancy. He gets it. The bigger we make the space, the more feelings can fit in.

1242955160_6f57cf2313_b
Photo by BugMan50

We are expansive enough to feel upset and loving at the same time. Or frustrated and hopeful. Or scared and excited.

Hopefully I can remember the same thing the next time I’m awake and exhausted in the wee hours.

6 thoughts on “On empathy, and how it helps me and my oldest son

  1. It’s amazing the amount of empathy you can develop through loving your children. I swear I had none, zero. Then these two little bundles of joy changed it all. I’m a follower of Janet Lansbury too and it has helped me so much more joy in being a stay at home mom. Great post!!

Thank you for commenting it up. I love hearing from you.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s