A few weeks ago, we were in the throes of a pretty hard core behavioral struggle with Cam (4) and I was feeling pretty desperate. Cam is byenlarge a pretty well-adjusted, cooperative, happy kiddo, we just got his end of the year report from preschool and it was absolutely glowing. But ever since he was 18 months old, when he has reached the end of his rope, he would hit Jeff and me. By this time he was four years old (still is at press time, although no longer hitting- for now) and we STILL had not found a formula that helped him move past it. I had spent the past two and a half years trying everything my ten years of teaching had taught me, I had reached out to my friends who had backgrounds in child development, I had read books, blogs, and articles- and we would get relief for a time. I had thought we FINALLY had the hitting licked about a dozen times, but it always came back and I had to admit that I was out of my depth. I went to my beloved Facebook Mommy Page and I laid it out to them. I had gone there with bits and pieces of it before, but this time, I gave all the gory details, including the fact that he was currently locked in his room because he had kicked me when I had tried to help him calm down and I didn’t know what else to do, and tried to prepare myself for what I would get back.
These ladies are pretty awesome, I was pretty sure I could count on not being mom-shamed or told I was a horrible mom so I felt somewhat safe. And their answers were gentle, affirming, and helpful, just as I was expecting. But there was a surprise for me buried in their responses, something I was NOT expecting- and that was MY OWN emotional response to them. When I wrote the post, I thought I was looking for answers and solutions, shreds of practical advice that would lift my spirit by giving me hope that we could finally kick this problem forever out the door. As it turns out, what ministered to my soul and lifted my spirit the most were not the suggestions and recommendations and links to articles, but the ways in which those wonderful women used their words to let me know I wasn’t alone.
“It’s definitely the age. You’re doing a great job.”
“_____ is in a similar stage”
“Tori, I don’t know what to tell you and I wish I did because we are going through much of the same thing with _____ at school.”
“No advice sorry but I can say that you are doing amazing”
“I feel you are parenting my child.”
“This is my life with _____”
“I’ve had this conversation so many times with my youngest son.”
Even my friend who is an actual professor of early childhood stuff at an actual university (a major one, you’ve heard of it) gave her feedback with shimmering threads of, “It is so hard, you’re doing a great job, we struggle so much with this…”
I didn’t expect to be as touched as I was by the solidarity. The fact that the empathy felt more valuable to my heart than the actual advice made me realize how much shame I had been experiencing about the whole thing. I mean, it’s hard enough when you find yourself struggling as a mom in the face of the constant parade of social media highlight reels, Pinterest boards, and parenting advice articles. Add to the mix that before I had kids of my own I was a TEACHER and a fair amount of my self-identity, sense of self-efficacy, and an embarrassing amount of my pride is tied up in my ability to get kids to listen to me and you’ve got a recipe for shame.
Brene Brown (who I am reading and quoting like mad right now) says that shame can’t survive empathy and I experienced that in full force as I read the words of my sister-moms on that post. Their empathy, compassion, and solidarity ministered to a wound I didn’t even realize I had and lifted me up out of a pit on to the solid ground I desperately needed to be on as I fought this battle.
I started my last blog post with a quote from Buddhist nun Pema Chodron on empathy,
“Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals.” I felt the warm glow of that very truth as these women sat with me in my struggle not as superiors who knew all the answers, but as equals who felt my pain and had been there as well.
It’s a truth we also see illustrated throughout the Bible. The authors of scripture frequently address their readers as their brothers and sisters, this theme is particularly prevalent in Paul’s letters. Even our Savior Himself did not set to his task of saving our souls before he had lived among us, as one of us, as an equal- even though he is the greatest of us all.
If shame can’t survive empathy, even when the shame isn’t fully recognized as it wasn’t in my case, what would happen if we all set about the task of perfecting empathy and compassion as a weapon in the war against shame, particularly when it comes to other moms? In her TED talk about shame, cyberbullying, and the tradable commodity of other people’s dignity, Monica Lewinsky touches on this idea, that we can use empathy and compassion to fight shame. You can watch that here.
What if we all spent the next few days looking at the moms around us and just sitting with them in their struggles. Even if we have no advice, just knowing that they are not alone can minister to them and loosen the shackles of shame that may be weighing them down. Telling her she’s a great mom, recognizing good things we see her doing in the midst of her struggles- it may heal her in ways she doesn’t even know she needs.
So to my Mommy Page Girls, I say thank you. Nicole, Erin, Emily, Amy, Chelsea, Rachel, , Kristina, Jessica, Jaimie, Victoria…y’all have no idea how much I needed exactly what you said to me that day, even I didn’t know. I hope I can return the favor some day. Matter of fact, I’ll be on the lookout for opportunities to do it for you and to pay it forward. That’s a promise. <3