This post is a Tuesday Tip.
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I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be a kid.
When my kids rebel, I forget what it was like to feel completely powerless in life—to eat when others told me to eat, to sleep at the dictated time, to be forced to spend my day in this school and to complete that homework.
I forget that feeling, and instead of trying to recall it, I fume about disrespect and fret about what kind of people they will become. And I respond to their rebellion with more domination. But it never works.
And the forgetting doesn’t stop there.
We forget what it was like to have our most prized possession destroyed or lost or taken away. We forget how it felt to have everyone stare at us when the teacher singled us out. Or how strange it was for our body to be changing in all sorts of unpredictable ways. Or how chaotic it felt to have only the most meager sense of identity and then be thrown into the boiling cauldron of high school. Or how much more important friends were than family. Or how terrifying it was to finally graduate college and then wonder, “Now what?”
We forget all of it.
And if we forget, how can we ever find a place of empathy? How can we ever come to a place of understanding from which to connect and lead our children? If we don’t remember—if we don’t seek that childhood-place in our own hearts—I think we abdicate our role as family leaders.
I have a friend who says that comedians are the truth-tellers. I think Brian Regan tells us the truth about how we forget:
If we want to lead our children, we must first find the place of a child in our own hearts. But how do we do this?
- Ask. Instead of telling our kids what they should do and feel, we can ask. Take them out for hot chocolate and a conversation. No guidance or instruction from you. Just listen.
- Remember. Find a memory in your own heart. Not a memory of a similar situation, but an experience of a similar feeling. Stay there, don’t run from it. Attend to the feeling, recall the setting. The sights, sounds, smells. Journal about it. Immerse yourself in what it was like.
- Be parented for a week. Submit yourself to the same standards as your children. Put your spouse in charge of “parenting” you. When you snap at somebody, go to time-out for a minute. When you refuse to share your stuff, you lose it for the rest of the day. When you don’t do your chores, your wallet gets lighter (no allowance for you!).
- Be playful for a week. This is the fun one. Lose yourself in play. Recall what it was like to be able to lose yourself in that kind of freedom. Relax into it and enjoy it. Adopt the mind of a child.
Does this mean we just understand our children and then let them do whatever they want? Absolutely not. But it means that when we do say no or set a limit or dole out a consequence that we are doing it from a place of deepest empathy.
And isn’t that what our children need most from their parent-leaders? To know that, as children, they have limits—they aren’t completely in control of the world, they aren’t the beginning and the end of all things—but that even within those frustrating realities, they are a beloved child, cared for deeply, and understood by the people that matter most to them.
Question: How do you empathize with your children? What experiences of childhood do you try to remember in order to be an understanding leader? Share your thoughts in the comments.
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TUESDAY TIP DISCLAIMER: The Tuesday Tip is not professional advice. It should be read as you would read a “self-help” book. For professional and customized advice, you should seek the services of a counselor, who can become more intimately familiar with your specific situation. Counselors can be located through your insurance network or through your state psychological association website.