Empathy's Quicksand

Parents love their kids. Focusing that love into skillful action is maybe the biggest part of my struggle as a dad and as a teacher. Clearly seeing my short-term reactions & responses to my kids helps me up their odds in the long-term. We seem to change and grow slowly in most of the important ways (think manners, habits of character, school, etc. with our kids...). However, we often decry the slow, the old, the measured response--we celebrate the young, the instant, the reactive. It seems pretty likely that this may be a big part of our suffering, individually and collectively. We want better for people--especially the people we love the most!

Let’s say you were baking a cake that took fifty minutes at 350 degrees, but you decided you wanted it in ten minutes instead of fifty. Here’s an idea: Why not cook it at 1750 degrees for ten minutes? Sounds like a plan—the only problem is, you’ll get soot. It cannot work. You cannot override Mother Nature. {"Empathy is a False God, Responsiveness if the real deal," Psychology Today, posted 08 Jun, 2015}

We're taught that a big part of this is empathy or putting myself in their shoes. Empathy can be emotional quicksand. True empathy demands that I look at ownership of a situation or struggle. I invent a million ways to grasp and try to hold onto a rope that isn't mine...and I end up burned, hurting, upset. And the other person's problem often only gets worse or gets kicked down the road even further. Stepping back from my kids' struggles when the price tag is affordable demands a courage I can't muster on lots of days--I fly off the handle, I rescue, I create a thousand stories that muddy the waters of things that aren't really mine to own, fix, or solve. Marshall Rosenberg really hit the nail on the head: With empathy, I'm fully with them, not full of them --that's sympathy.

#warriorsoftheopenheart #warriorsnotworriers #courage #empathy #lovelikeawarrior

Truth Is, It's Just Not the Same!

Despite what some of us “learned” in the good ‘ol days, it is NOT the adult’s job to “teach a lesson” and “hold them to high expectations” (note:  expectations are great, they’re just not set by talking a lot).  It IS our job to give the gifts of simple, basic limits.  Then it’s our job to step back and provide the greatest freedom we can within those limits. Then they know beyond words that we love them.

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Walking Through This Together

“Lellers in mee puuuh!! Lellers in mee puuh!!”  Our 13 year old has been passionate about appearance and expressed a penchant for fashion-forward thinking since her toddler years.  She was always accessorized by a purple purse emblazoned with a iridescently pedaled flower, loaded with colored magnetic letters.  “Letters in my purse!!” was a siren song to our hearts as she gained more and more confidence, ability, and mobility as she grew from a baby into a toddler.

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Sir or Madam, Open Your Heart and Please Step Away from the Situation!

Fear is excitement without the breath.  *Fritz Perls

Our human condition has always provided lots of exciting situations.  We live in a time and age with more excitement than ever before...and that excitement is almost always utterly disconnected from our survival.  Look at this!  Buy that!  Virtually imagine this!  Most of the time these things seem very positive, especially in the short-term.  We have bodies and brains that love excitement...until we don't.  Our kids and peace of mind are on the front lines of this anxiety-inducing version of reality that we create for ourselves.  It looks like this excitement is causing a LOT of collective anxiety, especially for our kids.   As a big, loving person in kids' lives, the question becomes, "What simple steps can help our kids navigate excitement and the situations of life?"

When we have time and space to look at our path as parent or teacher or with any of the people and situations in our lives, our actions may be far more skillful when we stick to a very simple approach. Skillful action seems much more likely, especially with our kids, when we: 
1)accept reality as it presents itself (It's like THIS--not what should/could/would be); 
2)find maximum faith in the person(s) facing the situation, especially in myself!;
3)exercise courageous (brutal?!) honesty about who truly owns a given situation or problem; and,
4)ask that person, "What do you think you can do?" and then step the heck back in the short-term

When we do this with our kids in situations ranging from the banal to significant, we send a profound message of confidence and trust that are the best hope we have to offer our kids.  Every time we do this we become part of the solution for our kids.  Granted, situations and individual kids are different, but the sooner I can do this, the sooner our kid is another step or two closer to being ready for the real world...with all its excitement!  

https://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2018/07/18/620074926/empowering-kids-in-an-anxious-world

Life's Messy & Hard, THANK GOODNESS!

Please read for a very good reminder of how powerful you...and your kids...really are! 

http://quillette.com/2017/12/27/collision-reality-depth-psychology-can-tell-us-victimhood-culture/

An October 2017 New York Times article entitled “Why Are More American Teenagers Than Ever Suffering From Extreme Anxiety?” looked at the rising tide of teen anxiety in the United States. Increasing academic pressures, the advent of smart phones, and ubiquitous social media use were explored as potential contributors to increasing teen anxiety, but the article implicated another factor as well – school cultures that enable young people to avoid those things that make them uncomfortable. Special educational 504 plans address student anxieties by allowing kids to leave class early, use special entrances, and seek out safe spaces when they are feeling overwhelmed. A therapist interviewed for the Times article worries that these kinds of “avoidance-based” accommodations only make anxiety worse by sending the message to kids that they are too fragile to handle things that make them uncomfortable.

Hoodwinked? Self Esteem Results from Actions!

Especially if you work with or have kids of any age, consider giving this a read. It runs contrary to a lot of what we do in schools across all age groups.  

Maybe if I can open myself to question important aspects of what we are told is our primary function as big loving adults in places like school, maybe I will be open to really giving kids what they need. 

"Among the most egregious errors they discovered were those in the papers that focused on academic performance. A correlation had been repeatedly found between high self-esteem and good grades. So, the logic went, if you boosted self-esteem you’d also boost grades. But the authors had made one of the most elementary mistakes in science. “When they tracked people over time,” says Baumeister, “the grades came first, and then the self-esteem. High self-esteem was a result of good grades, not a cause.”

Baumeister realized that efforts to boost self-esteem hadn’t improved school performance. Nor did self-esteem help in the successful performance of various tasks. It didn’t make people more likeable in the long term, or increase the quality or duration of their relationships. It didn’t prevent children smoking, taking drugs, or engaging in “early sex.” His report made the claims of the self-esteem movement look like those of a street-corner wizard."

https://medium.com/matter/the-man-who-destroyed-americas-ego-94d214257b5 

Love and Action

Skillful teachers and parents remember that there are two ingredients in every interaction with our kids:  love and action.  

Last weekend in working with a group of early childhood caregivers, the group spent quite a bit of time discussing this and many of us shared some of our experiences as young parents.  We love our kids--period.  When those kids are newborns love and need always rules the day--kids cry and we figure out what to do.  Food, comfort, safety...we provide what big people give little people.

At some point in that first year of life, though, a line between need and want starts to materialize.  At first--we all agreed--we didn't know there was any change and in all honesty, it didn't matter.  We just keep cuddling those littles and they keep developing a world view that life is good.  Things are as they should be!  In the next couple years, however, it becomes vital that we become skillful at clarifying that line between needs and wants for ourselves and for our kids.  We all require limits to regulate needs vs. wants.  I'm even starting to handle this myself ;)

Today, my intention is to think a bit more about that first ingredient of love.  Today, my hope is that that love guides toward two things: 1)empathy for the smaller (or bigger!) person in front of me and 2)action the kid needs me to take to set the limits we so desperately need...but definitely don't always want.

After all, we're both human, right?