Earlier this week, I had a guest post on Code Name: Mama about some of my recent struggles in natural parenting. My own self-imposed expectations and perceived shortcomings were making natural parenting and connecting with my family a burden. Once I gave myself permission to use compassion – both for myself and for others – I once again began to experience the great joy that brought me to natural parenting in the first place. So what is compassion?
Compassion is literally defined as “a deep awareness of the suffering of another, coupled with the wish to relieve it.” But the most telling aspect of compassion is apparent in the root of the word. It comes from the Latin word compati, which means to sympathize. When you practice compassion, you’re not making yourself lesser or bowing to the needs of others – you’re actually showing a great strength by being able to accept others’ emotions and needs as equal to your own and provide a respectful energy for those emotions to be rectified. To sympathize is pretty easy, but it is very powerful.
When you practice compassion, a disagreement is not a struggle – it is simply a conversation. If you can see others’ actions and statements not as an attack on you, or an attempt to assert their needs over yours, but can see the validity of their feelings and accept and consider them before you respond, little things don’t become big issues. Grudges never get held. Negative feelings simply have nowhere to pile up. Solutions are made from thoughtful discussion, and as a result, everyone around you, and you yourself, feel so much more comfortable, respected, and free – to bring your head up and see the beauty of life.
Compassion in the Family
Living with compassion has opened up lines of communication with my family as never before. This is especially true with my marriage. My husband and I are nearing our fourth wedding anniversary, and we have continually struggled with the differences in our work environments and our positions in the household. Looking back, I can trace pretty much every single fight we have ever had to an issue comparing the worth and difficulty of the work I do at home with the work he does in the military. Comparing our worth and our frustrations has always been a point of contention – we couldn’t ask the other “how was your day?” and then genuinely feel sympathy for the others’ daily trials. It definitely contributed to the underlying tension around our house.
Now, since I have started actively utilizing compassion, every discussion is completely different. If he says something that bothers me, I internally accept and validate his reasons for saying it and forgive him for offending me, whether or not he actually meant to. As a result, I feel no residual anger over what was said – and if it really was disrespectful, I can tell him so without being angry about it. So, when he comes home from work and I ask him “how was your day?” I really listen and am able to sympathize with his perspective- and he with mine.
Reflections of Compassion
I am so happy about the difference that compassion is making in my marriage and with my daughter. But the reflection of my compassion in my daughter’s behavior toward others amazes me even more. Living with compassion as a primary goal, every day situations with my child become remarkable experiences. During the winter in Maine, it has been frustrating to find stimulating activities for my active little two year old. She has always reflected respect and empathy and used polite mannerisms (“please” and “thank you,” “excuse me” and “I’m sorry,” etc.), because we have modeled them for her in our daily lives. But when she sees me use compassion, it really transforms her behaviors and interactions.
We are Texas girls and used to being able to be outside during the winter without the issues of slipping on ice or getting snow in our snowsuits. Back in Texas, you can go to the zoo the day after Christmas if you want to. Here in Maine, the thought is laughable! So things like play dates, trips to the play place at the mall, and library story times have become very important to our daily routine. This means lots of socialization, and the need to follow general social protocols (like “we don’t push, even when we’re angry” and “we take turns so everyone can have fun”). Before I started actively using compassion as a foundation for my relationships, trying to get Abbey to remember these general social protocols was a real struggle. Someone would want to play with the same toy, and Abbey would yell “No! Stop! It’s my turn!” and a struggle would ensue. A lot of times, one or the other would hit or push, and then the situation would just be a mess. It was so frustrating for me, because I could not get through to Abbey in order to help her calm down. It seemed the more I tried, the more she would cry and scream. I started to feel like a huge failure, and poor Abbey felt overwhelmed about going anywhere where there would be other children.
But when I started focusing on using compassion, not only did our communication lines open up (just like I experienced with my husband), but I can see Abbey reflecting compassion toward other children, even without my direction. Now, when another child wants to use a toy Abbey has, or occupy the same space, Abbey will forgo screaming, and say instead, “You want to play, but it’s my turn.” Sometimes this is shortened to: “My turn. Wait.” but either way, reflecting the compassionate ways that I deal with struggles in our house has made Abbey’s words and body language so much less aggressive and more descriptive. It’s amazing how things change when a child is exposed to compassionate ways of life as opposed to demands and threats of consequence or punishment.
If you would like to read more about how compassionate parenting positively affects families, I suggest this fantastic blog post at Happy Families, entitled What Your Children Deserve Least When They Need it Most – The title is a bit of a quandary, but I promise, the post is right on the money, and the advice at the end is very easy to comprehend and apply to situations. It’s a great example of how I treat frustrating situations of Abbey’s (or Hubs’ for that matter!)