Oxford dictionary defines empathy as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. To me, empathy means you have to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Not looking from far away and feeling sorry for them, but literally feeling with them.
I am not a parenting expert. I do know that there is no such thing as perfect parenting nor guarantees. Like many of you, motherhood is by far my wildest and most challenging adventure and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I believe that when it comes to our sense of belonging and worthiness, we are shaped by our families. Because our children are constantly learning from us and how we engage with the world, I find the topic of empathy very important and fascinating.
In her video, Brené Brown, states that empathy fuels connection while sympathy drives disconnection. I am not an empathy expert like Brené, but I do believe that connection with my son and with others is very important which is why I came up with the following ways we can try to be more empathetic with ourselves, with other moms and with our children.
- Yourself – If we want our children to love and accept who they are and do the same with others, our job is to love and accept who we are. We can be hard on our ourselves. I’ve heard so many moms say that when they are laying in bed at night shame starts to creep in their head and heart. We need to stop lying to ourselves. Lies like, a good mom steams fresh vegetables instead of serving them from a can, or, feeding my newborn formula makes me an incapable mom, should not have room in your life. We can’t use fear, shame, blame, and judgment in our own lives if we want to raise good empathetic children.
- Other moms – We all have our way of doing things but we do have to respect other mom’s ways. When you listen to conversations or read a blog about controversial issues like vaccinations, co-sleeping, or formula feeding you tend to also hear shame and hurt. A lot of us might not act on it but inside our heads, we might be judging and even shaming others. You can’t teach your kids how to be empathic if you are shaming other mothers for the choices they make. Our job is to make choices for our family that align with our values and support other mothers who are doing the same. In these cases, we should show them support by letting them know that they are doing the best they can for their families and they are doing a great job at it!
- Your children – We mothers are far from being perfect. We have good days and bad days. We yell, unintentionally hurt, punish harshly and say things we shouldn’t have. The best thing you can do to teach your children to be empathetic is letting them know we are sorry and that we don’t have it all together. We are allowed to tell our children we are sorry that we hurt their feelings. Another effective way is to acknowledge their feelings in a real way but still letting them know there are rules that need to be followed. For example, if your kid doesn’t want to do his chores you can let him know that you understand that chores are not as fun as playing because you feel the same way too but they do have to be done. Actions do speak louder than words so we must be what we want our children to become. If you like to use books as tools for teaching behaviors to your children, here are some with good reviews: Stand in My Shoes, What If Everybody Did That, You, Me and Empathy and Start with Sorry.
I believe that being an engaged mom with our children is key to raising empathetic kids. It means sitting down with our children and understanding their interests, dreams, and stories. It does take time and energy but that’s what we signed up for when we decided to become moms!