Friday, August 10, 2012

Walking in the Other Shoes


Empathy is both a piercing realization and a necessity in growing as a human being.  The older I get, the longer I work, and the more bridges I cross as a parent the more true this statement becomes.
Before you have children, you have all these righteous beliefs on what you will and won’t do “someday” as a parent.  You walk through all the mistakes you think you’re parents made and you swear, hand over heart, you won’t make those same mistakes; say those same things you’re parents said to you that seemed so ridiculous and drove you crazy.  You think to yourself, someday when I have kids I’m not going to scream “Don’t make me pull this car over” all the while swinging a smacking hand between the front console and back seat and really giving the separating air space a good run for its money.  And then you cross that bridge, foot on the break pad indicating to your brood “you mean business” and will indeed pull this car over right now.
I remember when I was a stay-at-home mom and I had a three year old pitching a screaming tantrum, a one year old quick on his sister’s heels to emulate the tantrum, a messy house and a pile of laundry tall as Everest.  I remember I sat on the couch, surrounded by the small pounding fists and ear piercing noise, and began to cry.  I was still so sleep deprived and I had run out of options to appease my babies.  The screaming only clouded my thinking even more.  I could feel myself breaking and I honestly wasn’t sure what I might be capable of in an effort to make everything quiet.
I stood up off the couch, walked into the office and shut and held the door.  The kids followed me, pounding on the door and screaming and crying even louder than they had been in the family room.  With one hand pressed on the door, I rested one ear on my arm and plugged the other ear with my free hand.  I remember thinking if they are screaming it’s a good sign they’re still breathing and very much alive.  I needed to just a moment to work my head out so I could remember how much I love the two screaming and hysterical beings on the other side of the door. 

I left them out there for less than five minutes, but in those five minutes I learned a lifelong lesson about empathy.  I want to be clear that I do not condone or understand how parents can actually hurt their children, but in those moments behind the closed door, I learned that decent people, if pushed hard enough, are capable of breaking and crossing over to a dark place I hope to never become fully acquainted with.
Something else also happened that day.  I learned to forgive my parents,  to stop being so hard on them for their missteps, to stop blaming them for my inadequacies and to recognize they did the best they knew how to do, just like I’m doing now. I think sometimes we all feel like we’re the only dysfunctional family in the neighborhood, but we’re not.  We’re all just trying to figure stuff out all the while flinging easy judgments out on what we don’t always understand.
Parenting is one of the most uncertain and self-deprecating paths I’ve ever had the privilege to walk.  I still have to remind myself frequently that it really is a privilege and that I’m one of the lucky ones who against her will became a “mommy.”  Truth be told, I still feel the urge to hide behind a closed door on occasion – literally and metaphorically, but as long as I keep opening the door back up I know there is hope.