In the past couple weeks, 3 of my close friends – on 3 separate occasions – gave me an incredible gift. While unexpected, it was much needed. I promise I’ll fill you in on the gift, but first:
My kids have watched Moana approximately a dozen times in the past week – in English and Spanish! – and by their third screening, I figured I’d watch the whole thing myself. I’d seen bits here, pieces there, but never start to finish in one sitting. So, one evening, I made some popcorn and watched… hold that thought.
As parents, our most critical responsibility is: raising our children to be the best versions of themselves the majority of the time. And to make sure they know how to accept full responsibility and apologize appropriately for the times they inevitably become the worst versions of themselves. No one is perfect. That’s our blessing and our curse; our blessing because OF COURSE we make mistakes, and our curse because we spend our entire lives trying be the best (perfect?) but even if we succeed, how would we even know?
As parents, as mothers, as women, our standards for ourselves are often incredibly high, but those of mainstream American culture are irrational and dangerous at best. We are told we are less than, unworthy, and therefore must fight harder, work smarter, be our best versions in all endeavors, while simultaneously appearing beautiful and friendly at all times; super heroes, if you will. So, what happens when we don’t live up to that? Or if we vehemently choose NOT to participate in that expectation?
And what happens when life gets so messy that we inevitably become the accidental villain? Or when our kids become the accidental villains?
(Cue Moana reference) When you meet the messiest, saddest, most fearful version of someone, and despite being terrified, you summon all your courage and give them the BEST version of yourself, that’s where humanity happens. That’s where healthy relationships with other humans are formed, through being our honest selves – in all our shapes and intensity levels – and receiving and giving compassion.
When our children become less than desirable versions of themselves, they experience a tidal wave of disequilibrium, moreso than adults, simply based on development and access to appropriate coping mechanisms. Children under age 3 don’t yet have the ability to understand your explanations and rationalizations for why having a kicking screaming fit won’t help their cause or help them reach emotional homeostasis. Children feel the feelings, all of them, and don’t yet know what the feelings mean or how to navigate them according to our culture’s societal norms. It’s our job to show them – keyword SHOW.
Meeting their intense negative emotions with intense compassion and empathy is what they need to feel safe in the midst of such intensity. Is that so much to ask? Well, truth be told, if you’ve never been on the receiving end of such intense compassion, then yes, it’s nearly impossible to conjure up enough courage to be kind in a volatile situation such as a level 5 meltdown in the cereal aisle at the grocery store. But if we, as adults, as parents, as friends, as partners, treat EACH OTHER with such compassion, it becomes exponentially easier to respond to our children in this way.
That gift I mentioned before was wrapped in beautiful, simple, yet deeply impactful words:
The gifts themselves were:
Acknowledgement of love and respect through compassion. The encouragement I needed in order to continue being myself and continue working towards even more love, respect, equity and empathy for our children. Permission to live my life and enjoy it too.
It’s not too late to boldly listen, love, and empathize with one another. It’s not too late for us, and it’s not too late for our children.