Fostering Empathy, Respecting Emotion and The Evils of Vacuuming

3 years ago
Last night, I was vacuuming; Miss Olive snuggled into my back and the older two on the sofa winding down with some mindless screen time.
When I had got so close they absolutely couldn't ignore me anymore, they decided to help me plump up the sofa. The reward for this help? Alfie asked me to vacuum his hair.
Now, Alfie loves the feeling of having his hair sucked into the end of the vacuum, and dissolves into hysterical laughter whenever we do it. He thinks it is extra specially fun when we pretend the vacuum is going to eat him and he has a narrow escape.
Esme on the other hand is absolutely, genuinely terrified of the vacuum. I mean shaking, sobbing, terrified and will beg me to stop if I go anywhere near Alfie with the hose.
So how do I balance their needs?
Is it fair to Alfie to miss out on something he enjoys? Is it fair on Esme to be forced to face something that scares her?
There is a school of parenting that subscribes to the idea that children need to be exposed to the harsh realities of life in order to prepare them for adult life: I know like many of my generation, I was dealt a hearty dose of “suck it up” as a child.
When I comfort my children, my first instinct is to “shhh” them and tell them everything is alright.
It’s what mamas do, right? Comfort their children? But what if that isn’t a comfort?
To my upset child, everything is not alright. To them something is wrong and when I tell them otherwise, or to be quiet, I am giving them the message that those feelings won’t be acknowledged.
Unsurprisingly, as a product of the “suck it up” generation, I struggle to treat my own feelings as valid. When I’m upset, or scared my automatic reaction is to ignore my feelings rather than accept and value them; but what is the cost to me? Well, in a nutshell, it stops me from connecting with thepeople around me
It’s a very British thing to be stoical, but it’s not a very healthy one. Inner strength is neglected in favour of a tough shell and an outward lack of empathy, because when we stop valuing how we feel we also stop caring about how others feel.
That’s certainly not the legacy I want for my children. I want them to know that their feelings have value. When they are hurt and upset, they don’t have to be quiet about it and they don’t have to “get over it”: By extension, I hope that it will foster their sense of empathy towards others.
The hardest part for me is that I am making this journey with them, sometimes painfully. By giving them permission to own and honour their feelings, I am doing the same to myself. That means peeling away some of the armour, setting aside some of the hardnosed bitch. That means feeling and being vulnerable and being brave in saying “it upsets me, and that matters”.
I’m also chalking this up as a reason not to vacuum again.

How have you found to connect with people around you? Are you a recovering hardass? If so I would love to hear about your journey.

Mum, activist and parenting junkie. Passionate about empowering women and living a good life with my family.

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