The other night, my 13 year old was reminding me that he was still protesting our families decision to have his brother move into the extra bedroom. (I recall coming to a consensus but we’ll agree to disagree.) I was in a crappy mood, trying to be done parenting for the night and he clearly wasn’t feeling heard. “You don’t understand- him moving out of our bedroom was the worst thing that has ever happened!”
Homage to the starving children in Africa who were intended to inspire me to eat my veggies- I went off on how damned lucky he is that this is the worst thing ever, and did he see the pictures of kids gassed in Syria today?
Because you can’t have big feelings of disappointment about anything less than sarin gas. I’m pretty sure I didn’t wow him with my heralded parenting skills and I didn’t feel great about myself either.
The next day, he was complaining about the amoxicillin he has to take 3x day for the next 10 days. I guess it tastes weird. No, I did not go off on how back in the olden days kids just died without antibiotics. My tank was full, I was relaxed and available and I connected. Of course it sucks to take nasty pills for 10 days. Connected and in tune, I was able to get in a little “imagine how it must feel for your brother who takes pills everyday and gets 3 shots a week?” Connected and in tune- my empathy was contagious. He could transfer how much he hated the pills to what he has a hard time remembering- that there is always someone out there struggling with something bigger.
It scares me when I think about how my “worst day ever” isn’t nearly as big as a lot of parents I know. I have a hard time going there- the loss, the pain, the fear, the powerlessness. But I have my worst days too. We all do. Compassion and empathy connect us to what it must feel like, how hard it must be.
We begin emotionally coaching our kids from the minute they express emotions. We give them language and comfort and as they grow we set limits and teach skills.
If you are lucky- the worst thing that ever happens to your 3 year old is you cut their toast wrong. If you are lucky- their first big loss is a much loved stuffed animal. If you are lucky- their first heartbreak is you won’t share your coffee with them. Those are very real feelings. We coach by acknowledging not by minimizing.
Then you have to do some internal coaching too. It is ok that your feelings are big, even if it isn’t war or death. It is ok to be hurt about someone being mean to you. It is ok to ask for time or attention or space. There is a pretty good chance that you have some less than perfect emotional coaching in your childhood.
I’m sorry if no one told you it was ok to be mad. I’m sorry if anyone made you feel stupid for crying. I know you deserved to be held and comforted even for the little bumps of life.
Children offer us the ninja training to work on what is allowed for big feelings. In coaching we learn, in responding, we heal. Each time I see it work, I know that my own capacity for connection and compassion deepens. If these kids don’t wear me out, I am going to a pretty awesome grown up when they’re done with me.