Empathy is one of the most essential traits in a grace-filled parent, but especially in becoming an authority on suffering. But unfortunately it is an often misunderstood and missing trait in a parent’s life.
The farther we get from our own childhood the more difficult it comes to put ourselves in the shoes of our children and to remember how we felt as we experienced many of the same things as they are. But empathy doesn’t need a strong emotional memory in order to exist. To help you with the concept of empathy let me first talk about the difference between empathy and sympathy.
Sympathy feels pity for others; it feels bad for them. But unlike empathy it doesn’t understand the feeling. And so sympathy can oftentimes lead us to say things that search for a silver lining but don’t relate to how a child is feeling. Like if your child is suffering because they got picked last when their friends were splitting up into teams and you say, “Well, at least you got picked.” Sympathy attempts to see the good in spite of the suffering the person is experiencing.
But empathy “gets” the feeling, though you may not have experienced the exact feeling, you still have empathy because you can allow them the feeling, having experienced your own suffering. Empathy might say to the same child, “I know it’s hard getting picked last. I remember one time when I tried out for basketball, I felt like . . . How does it make you feel?”
Or even more simply, “I’m so sorry. I’m here.”
Empathy doesn’t try to fix things by telling kids to stop feeling what they are feeling, but it relates to the suffering that happens as you live as a child (and as an adult) without full control of your own life. When you empathize with your children, you offer them grace rather than ridicule, criticism, micromanagement, or punishment. You put yourself down as an expert on suffering rather than the inflictor of that suffering and you build a bond with them that they will remember when something really bad happens in their life.
Excerpt From: “House of Grace – Big Sinners Raising Little Sinners.” Get an advance reader’s copy of the book here well before it releases.