When you find yourself lacking empathy for your child….

Life has its challenges, and parenting adds to that. Parents get worn down and they develop a few rough edges. It happens, but refreshing ourselves does not have to be elusive or difficult. When we feel stressed out, exhausted, scared, frustrated, or hurt, we automatically go into self-protection, short-fuse mode. It’s a reaction designed to reach an immediate resolution or change.


Yet it’s a heart wrenching move. It only creates heartache on both sides. It not only drives us away from understanding and compassion for the child’s process (and our own), it drives us towards our own tendency to disconnect more, layer on more conflict.

No parent can escape this situation, because it’s native to the experience of being human and learning that we are all heir to. We need to focus on gentleness, not guilt. We need to love ourselves enough to become devoted students to what life wants to reveal. As adults, it’s our responsibility to learn how to take care of ourselves, and doing so lovingly is the only way to do that effectively. We have options that can quickly help us to be our best own best resource when we can’t ‘just get over it’ during a tense moment.


Step One: Reach out.


Reach out for support. We can’t do this in a vacuum. We are social animals, and we need empathy and support from those trusted friends or family members that can love us up. Even if they can’t change the circumstances, knowing they’re there in that difficult space with you at that moment is restorative. Even a few minutes on the phone with a close friend can change the weather, or make it easier to walk through.


When it’s hard to find empathy for your child,

it almost always means that you need empathy too.


Step Two: Pause. Don’t respond. Bite your tongue.


FYI, biting your tongue is a legitimate spiritual practice. We can choose to pause and take a very deep breath because we all know what happens. When we’re triggered, we can’t fully trust our own decision making process, and the words that fly out of our mouths are more about survival and less about the big picture thanks to our brain’s idea of rational and reasonable in that moment.


Step Three: Put your mind in its place.


Notice the ranting of your mind, and know that you don’t need to follow it. Let it be background noise, rather than the authority. It’s the same chatter as always, spinning virtually endlessly in a closed loop. It is only the pent-up energy of your past subjective experiences righteously blathering seemingly insightful and seemingly true garbage. Facing this is a painful learning and growing process. It steers you toward a deeper surrender that creates healing and awakening. Do your best to let it blur into the background. Tune out of your own crazy radio, and into your bodily sensations instead.


Step Four: Sit in the Fire.  


We are built to process emotions. That’s how our nervous systems get us back in balance. All it requires is for us to be present with our bodily experience. By being present, we begin to metabolize the emotional energy. This looks like sitting in the fire of our activated feelings. It’s not a real fire, but we usually avoid it because we conditioned to avoid discomfort.


It looks like actually breathing into the places in our body that feel annihilated by discomfort, and while we exhale, we relax into the intensity in that place. Intensity is basically information for the nervous system. These flames know what to burn off.  


Step Five: Move It.


Be it a run, a bike ride, a yoga class, or even if it’s only five minutes of walking briskly, move. The energy in your body is likely stagnant, and simply by moving, you shift your state physically, emotionally and mentally.  


Your kids are the medicine you need. They’ll easily expose your wounded parts, revealing where and how you become divided from love, patience and empathy. They are there to help you see where you can be more skilled in how you relate to your experience.


The more capacity you have to feel empathy for your child, the more you will model and teach them how to do this for themselves.


“Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged,

sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant with the weak and wrong.

Sometime in your life, you will have been all of these.”

– Siddhartha Gautama

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