Imagine, 20 years from now, your child is talking with friends about their parents. Based on your behavior in the last two weeks: What might your child say about you?
“He got angry a lot.” “She was too busy for me.” “He loved being my Daddy.” “She was my greatest ally.”
Is that what you want? What’s your ideal answer? And how can empathy help you get there?
I remember leaving for a trip when my kids were around four and six years old. There was a “typical argument” in the morning before I left, and I ended up shouting at them. Later, with the clarity that comes when you’re 32,000 feet in the air, I thought: “This isn’t the Daddy I want to be. If this plane crashes, I don’t want them to remember me as someone who shouted.”
Reducing Parental Frustration in 90 seconds: Empathy
I wish I could say that I instantly changed and became the Dalai-Lama-of-Daddys… I was not, am not, that good at emotional intelligence. But, I can say that the change began there. From that moment, every time I found myself over-reacting, I heard my airplane-induced-commitment reminding me: This isn’t who you want to be.
Here’s a fun 90-second video about using empathy to be the parents we mean to be:
Two Practical Empathy Tools for Parents
One of the most powerful tools that helped me reduce my frustration was, and still is, a version of empathy. When I’m agitated about my child, I remind myself: My kid is probably agitated about me. When I’m enraged with one of them (and they seem to take turns pushing those buttons), I remind myself: S/he is probably enraged with me. When I feel sad or disconnected, I consider: Maybe my child is feeling much the same.
Another tool is somewhat the opposite. I ask myself: Is this really about me? Often when they’re having big feelings, my impulse is to take it personally. He’s defying me. She’s shutting me down. Then, with a bit of empathy, I can reflect: What if it has nothing to do with me? What if they’re expressing this feeling here, in my direction, because it’s safe to do so… but it’s not really about me?
I find this a curious paradox – empathy requires a recognition of reciprocity, on the one hand, and, on the other, separation. Interdependence and independence, both at the same time. That’s a powerful way to view ourselves as parents.
I hope you’ll experiment with these tools, and come back here to share how they work for you!
Plus, If you’d like more tips and strategies for parenting with emotional intelligence, please sign up on the form below and we’ll email you an excerpt of our new book: Whole-Hearted Parenting – how to use emotional intelligence to create more peace, connection, and joy.