Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Are You Listening? I'm Talking to Me!

A big part of being a parent is empathy. Not sympathy. Empathy. Kids need understanding. They need to feel like you get what they’re saying and what they’re going through. You should, you did it years ago. Being empathetic can help parents as well.

I explained something to my oldest son the other day and accidentally scolded myself. He didn’t pick up on it. My backfiring rebuke was done in a very secretive, self-loathing kind of way that only I noticed. He did, however, seem to understand the point in my message that was actually intended for him, and for that I was proud…and a little bit jealous, because I don’t remember being that open-minded at his age.

His younger brother did not want to partake in the physical “battle” game that he wanted to play. This is the kind of game that begins as friendly wrestling and usually ends up with them both coming to me, crying. Each tries to beat the other to the chance to snitch on his brother for playing too rough. My youngest perhaps figured out the pattern here, or maybe just felt lazy, and refused to play. When my oldest threatened with the fact that it was the only game he would play, my youngest called his bluff, choosing to play video games by himself as if to say, “Fine, Mario is always here for me when I need him.”

My oldest began to pout. As I passed through the room, he pulled me into it, telling me, “That means I can’t play ANYTHING.”

His intended result, no doubt, was to force his will onto his little brother via daddy. His little brother artfully explained (it’s hard to believe he’s 5 sometimes) that it wasn’t personal and that he just didn’t feel like a fighting game at the moment. From me, instead of sympathy, he received a lecture.

Obviously, it began with the explanation of how unfair it would be to force someone to play a game they didn’t want to. There was the “put yourself in his shoes” theory.

“Now, you wouldn’t want him to do that to you, would you?”

He understood this part, but there was still the sadness and anger of pouting on his face as he avoided eye contact. So, I took the lecture up a step.

Calmly, I said, “Look, if you want to sit here and pout and waste your time because you didn’t get exactly what you want, that’s fine. I want you to understand something, though. That is your decision. It’s not your brother’s fault if you sit here sad and mopey, it’s yours. This is your time. You can waste it now being sad, and feeling sorry for yourself, or you can decide to do something that will make you happy instead. Whatever you decide, remember, it is your decision.” I then excused myself and went upstairs.

Before I was halfway out of the room, I found myself wondering if I had been talking to the kid or myself. I had that rushing feeling of past memories snatching me off my feet and taking me somewhere against my will. All the memories of wasted time. Time I’d spent pouting and feeling sorry for myself. Time I could never have back. My childhood with Victor. The Weapon X program. It was all rushing back to me. Too much to handle. What did they do to me? Those monsters! Nooooooo!!!

I sat down upstairs and took a breath.

At times like this, I am humbled. And thankful. Thankful that I have children who, despite their arguing and occasional selfishness, are genuinely good kids. I’m glad that I have them around to talk to so that I have the opportunity and inspiration to accidentally slap myself in the face with a forgotten life lesson. I’m glad they reminded me that, sometimes, all it takes to add a little happiness to your day to day life is the decision to do so.

“It is your decision.”

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