In You I See Myself: Embracing Empathy in Motherhood | Marvelous Mundane

Those mornings the three year old’s whine sounds more like a war cry, a high pitched declaration of battle between his childishness and my sanity; the eight-year old’s foot dragging a shot fired against all my glorious intentions. And the almond-eyed two year old, those whacks he gives his brother are blows to the grace my heart embraced in the early morning quiet, before the walls of this house echoed with the noise of three life-filled boys.

Days come where it seems this white sided house is a casualty laden battlefield. We line up, them against me. Their to the death stubbornness against my i will survive determination. Their quick shifting emotions against my fast fading patience. Their muddy shoes and soup dropping hands against my momentarily clean floors. Their childish cries against my not so adult-like sighs.

And you know the first victim to fall in this battle?

Empathy

: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

It’s not a compassion that makes makes everything okay, that shifts the bounds of right and wrong, of kindness and courtesy.

It’s not an excuse that equals a hundred justifications, a thousand rationalizations.

Empathy hands me new glasses to view my children; we are not competitors in a daily race to survival, we are companions on this journey of life.

Empathy holds up my children, a mirror to my soul. In their eyes I see myself.

Empathy is magnifying glass shouting bold and clear: I am more like them than unlike them.

I may not be head-butting people who invade my space, sassing people whose requests inconvenience my comfort, or flopping on the floor when life asks me to put aside my first choice (and second choice, and third choice). But those same feelings fostering their behaviors are the same feelings bouncing around my heart, flinging impatient & graceless words out of my mouth more often than I like to admit.

Because the nitty-gritty of life and parenthood isn’t often figured into my day. The frequent reminders, “You can’t hit your brother just because you don’t like what he says. We can have different opinions!”. The crankiness because, why DON’T we wear pajamas all day. The time spent waiting for the proud three-year-old who can now buckle his own carseat in ten hours. The unplanned trip to the grocery store. The procrastinated phone call. The unexpected bill. The light glowing bright yellow on my dashboard. The misunderstanding muddling my marriage. The tornado of heartbreak twisting through a friend’s life.

These unplanneds, unwanteds, toss fuel on the fire already simmering in my heart, the fire of expectations. This is what I need to be happy.

I may not think these words black-and-white through my head, but they glow clear as day on my face, woven through my words, flashed across my emotions.

And these same words are the fuel for those toddler tantrums, the talkbacks, the feet-dragging of the little people in my house.

I am more like them than unlike them.  

When I get this, my anger seems hypocrisy.

My frustration with their neediness stands in painful contrast to the glaring reality of my own neediness, the neediness that brought the king of heaven down to our broken earth. Made in his image, to be like him, the darkness of sin covered and twisted that image inside each of us. He stepped onto earth in our image to live like us, to live for us, a perfect life of complete dependence on the Father.

He was one of us, so we could be one with him.

Now he speaks to God for us as one who felt our needs. He lives in us as one who understands, one who faced every temptation and struggle we face. He doesn’t just offer conviction and redemption; he offers us himself. He walks alongside us as one who has been there.

He doesn’t leave us to struggle alone.

We can let this glorious goodness seep over into every part of our parenting; the glory of the God-man walking with us an example for parent-me walking with my children.

A come-along-with-me mom.

An I-have-been-there-too mom.

A we’ll-get-through-this-together mom.

We can share the journey by sharing our stories. Sharing how we felt the same struggle in our childhood, or even right now. Sharing that we don’t always like having someone tell us what to do. Sharing a time we wrestled injustice, struggled loving a difficult person, fought back unkind words. Sharing how we failed, got back up, stepped back out.

Did you know that research backs this up? That children who have been told family stories, who have heard those stories of struggles and challenges, have higher self-esteem and stronger sense of identity? Because these shared stories give us a place to belong, they share a hope to hold on. They create a sense of US.

We share these stories in our home. 

The time twelve year old daddy stepped on a nail while walking through the woods, and pulled it out all by himself. Daddy hurt too. 

The time a ferocious mother turkey chased eleven year old mom down the driveway, until she tripped and fell in a ditch. Mommy was scared too. 

The time ten year old daddy ran face first into the side of a house while flying a kite. Daddy hurt too. (okay, there's a theme to daddy stories). 

The time grandma told ten year old mommy she had to wear a blue bow in her hair. Mommy was mad too.

The time thirty-two year old mom stayed up too late and let her tiredness turn to crankiness. That was yesterday. 

Entering parenting moments with empathy calms my spirit, gentles my words. Truth isn't whipped out as weapons of war and guilt and shame, but as an invitation to see and experience the grace of the Savior.

And when it isn’t the moment to share a story, when they need quick reactions or quiet hugs, the grace comes when I remember: I am more like you than unlike you.