The definition of empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. I’m pretty sure we’re all on the same page about wanting our kids to develop this trait.
The way I do it is helping Ezra name his own emotions.
When Ezra is crying he’s not showing me that he feels OK, he’s showing me that he currently feels something other than OK. Crying doesn’t signal to me “you’re OK” it signals “you’re angry/upset/frustrated/sad” and I really want my son to learn this. I display empathy by showing him I understand his feelings. I model it. I don’t want to encourage him to repress his emotions. I also don’t want to teach him that as an adult who can see that nothing is actually wrong and he truly is OK, that I have the last say on how he feels.
There is an abundance of articles, books, influencers, and smart people espousing the idea that you are doing something important when you aren’t doing anything at all. That just being is important. I’ve wholeheartedly bought into this idea that the fetishization of productivity (doing) is negative and I have worked to develop a healthy (in my view) balance of both doing and being. This includes making sure that time for relaxing and recuperating is built into my schedule. I think of this as the anti-hustle culture and it asks us to question our busyness and in the least reject it as a virtue.
Last fall I got so into astrology that one day I spent 8-hours researching my birth chart. I can’t say that all of it stood out as really describing me and some of it was totally off base. I’ve spent the last several months paying attention to my birth chart signs and seeing how the moon and sun moving through the zodiac affects me. Oftentimes I don’t notice the changes but I’ve still enjoyed thinking about how different aspects of my personality relate to the different phases of the moon and the zodiac.
I’ve had very little experience with peers having babies. Here are some things that I have found to be true in my experience as the first person in my friend group to have a baby.
Non-parents compare parenthood to their experiences in pet ownership
It’s hard to have a conversation about what I’m going through and learning about when someone relates it back to pet ownership. It feels more like an interruption than part of the conversation because the two are so entirely different. Even constantly being woken up in the night by a pet is not the same as having a baby who does not sleep through the night. A lot of times I felt misunderstood when I’d talk about sleepless nights. I would get “yeah I have a new puppy and these sleepless nights are tough.”
I’m in a time of my life filled with big changes. I sometimes find myself desperately trying to keep things status quo and keep my routines predictable while trying to hold back from making tough decisions and actions. I alternate between this and trying to redirect back to a place of embracing change, taking inspired action, and not resisting my life moving forward. There are a few areas in which I have a considerable amount of experience and knowledge. Two of these areas are connected in that I’m deciding that I am not going to use this knowledge anymore. I find myself struggling with letting go, as if I’m hoarding all that ever was because maybe one day I’d like to repeat passages of time.
It’s really difficult having a baby. Do you know what would make it more difficult?
I know how to take care of a newborn. This knowledge was hard won. Within a few days of bringing Ezra home I realized while I had been “well prepared,” I had no way of understanding what the lived experience was going to feel like. I was completely bowled over by postpartum activities. The identity shift, lack of sleep, round-the-clock demands on my body to feed my baby while simultaneously recovering from labor, not actually knowing what Ezra’s cries meant yet, and the drastically reduced bonding time with my husband completely depressed me.
Generally, Halloween is the only holiday I do anything for or look forward to. But last week I got a note home from Ezra’s daycare about making sure to give valentines to everyone in the class. My first thought was “do we have to give ANY?” But then I felt like it was an opportunity to turn Valentine’s Day into an art project. The thought of making art for everyone in the class (and please keep in mind Ezra is in the infant class, his oldest classmate is 18 months old) was super appealing.
I realize I have postpartum anxiety. I know it by the way that I am compelled to be doing. At all times. I am constantly ready to be doing ANYTHING. There’s a lot to do when taking care of a baby. I am always ready to do any of it. I also project WAY into the future and my heart races thinking about how angry I would be if certain things happened the way they probably won’t happen. Sometimes I spend a lot of time thinking about it.
I also realize I have an issue with anxiety in the way that I sometimes feel really nervous when nothing is wrong. Nervous that I’m not doing the right thing. Nervous that I shouldn’t be doing anything if it’s not for the baby. Intellectually I know it doesn’t make any sense and I can do fun things for just myself. It’s not an intellectual problem. It’s a feeling problem. My feelings are of worry and nervousness even when I know that everything is ok. This is anxiety.