Gaining Empathy for My Own Parents Through Parenting

Gaining Empathy for My Own Parents Through Parenting
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Gaining Empathy for My Own Parents Through Parenting 1

Until I had kids, I never really thought about my mom having a life before being a mother. But now, one of the biggest gifts of becoming a mom myself is the ability to see things from her perspective. And ahh, it’s so easy to empathize with her now that I know how difficult it is to be a parent—now that I know intimately what it feels like to have your heart outside of your own body, walking around in the big world.

Gaining Empathy for My Own Parents Through Parenting 2

A few years ago I remember being annoyed when my Mom was talking about what I was like as a child. She complained, “You were the type of kid who always needed three meals a day.” It was such a small thing, what she said, but it struck me. I felt like she was complaining about a very basic human need. Of course kids need to eat and parents need to feed them, and breakfast, lunch, and dinner seem standard…for all of us. But just yesterday, when I was searching desperately for an afternoon snack for my grumpy toddler, who was just about at peak-meltdown and had refused everything I offered, I started to laugh because I finally understood what she meant.

My mom is someone who is always on the go. She doesn’t like to sit around the house, she works around the clock and when she isn’t working, she’s helping someone move, running errands, or doing favors for just about anyone who asks. She doesn’t plan her schedule around meals, she eats when she can. So I get it now. What she was really complaining about was how she had to change herself and her schedule to accommodate me, constantly.

Now it seems so silly for me to be annoyed about it because she dared complain 20 years later. I complain about certain things I have to do for James almost every day (as I vacuum the house for the third time in a day or step on a teeny tiny block that made its way into the bathroom). Parenting is hard and it’s humbling. It’s also the joy of my life, the most meaningful and transcendent journey I’ll ever go on. My mom told me that, too, but before I had James, I might have listened, but I didn’t hear it.

Gaining Empathy for My Own Parents Through Parenting 3

These days, several times a day, I think about her back when she was raising me. I think about how she was so much younger than me when she had her first baby, when she had her second baby, and I can’t even imagine parenting so young. I think back to what she must have felt like when she was trying to figure out the newborn stage without all the knowledge in the world available in her pocket. I think about how she had to do it mostly alone, working 70+ hours a week just to barely get by, parenting through grief and pain and all the uncertainty, and oh god, I know I wouldn’t have ever been as strong or capable as she was. But that’s hindsight, isn’t it, breaking your heart and healing it at the same time.

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I wish I could go back in time and, I don’t know, just hold her, tell her she was doing great, thank her. I can’t, of course. All I can do is love her, love James as good as she loved me, and maybe one day he’ll know what I know now, too.

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