I have a confession. I am not a very compassionate person. I try to be, but it doesn’t come naturally. I struggle.
I am currently reading a book that is hitting me over the head like a ton of bricks.
The book is How We Love: Discover Your Love Style by Milan and Kay Yerkovich. The book is actually intended to be a helpful book for marriage, but I’m mining it for all it’s worth, and it has made me think really hard about how I respond to and connect with my children.
Near the beginning of the book the authors ask if the reader has any memories of being comforted as a child. Many adults do not remember being comforted in their childhood. But whether or not we were comforted as children has a direct impact on how we love and relate to other people as adults.
Essentially, there are different types of dysfunctional homes, and children adapt differently in each environment. As they grow into adults, their childhood experiences and how they have adapted carry over into future relationships.
Even good homes are not perfect homes. So even if you can’t relate to any of the “extreme” examples in this book, it is still a very insightful book.
Thankfully I feel like I had a stable and loving home where my parents connected with me and generally showed comfort. But the book got me thinking a lot about how I connect (or fail to connect) with my own children and how it has direct bearing on not only my kids but also their future spouses and children.
Maybe this is a no-brainer to you. Maybe you have already thought about this before. But, for me—although I obviously have thought about my actions having consequences on my children—I had not thought specifically about how a lack of empathy could have so much trickle-down effect.
The friend who recommended this book to me saw a huge transformation in her own father after he read this book. He went from being a strict disciplinarian, with displays of “righteous anger” toward his children, to being more tender and loving. This directly impacted his family in a positive way. So, that is why I initially picked up this book.
Often my response to my children is: “Just buck up! It’s not a big deal. You can do it! You don’t need to cry right now. Stop complaining and move on!” I am a tough person and I expect others to also be tough.
While it is true that kids need to learn to control their emotional outbursts and be respectful of others, there is a counter-truth. We should be allowed to feel things deeply. We should be allowed to express feelings of sadness, frustration, and anger, as well as feelings of joy and happiness.
Kids should know that it is okay to feel the range of emotions and that their parents care about those feelings.
According to the authors of How We Love, there are three steps in validating the feelings of others and reaching out to fully connect with that person.
- Ask questions to uncover a person’s feelings.
- Validate those feelings by saying that you understand or you would feel the same way too, for example. Let them know it is acceptable to feel the way they do.
- Ask what that person needs and really listen to what they say.
Being a more compassionate mother doesn’t mean that I need to have a deep, lengthy, tenderhearted conversation with every kid every single time someone is upset. Maybe they just need a quick hug or a kind word at times. But How We Love is a huge wakeup call to me to take time to regularly show empathy, respect my kids’ feelings, validate their emotions (even the ugly ones), and to try to connect with my kids emotionally, especially if I sense that they are discouraged and need comfort.
After all, if their own mother won’t do that, who will?
Photo Credit: Graphic design by Anna Soltis. Following image courtesy of author.