Compassion. What is it? I can tell you what it is not. It is not simple pity and it is not simple sympathy. Those imply a casual interest in someone's suffering and noticing it, but then moving on about one's day. Compassion has an energy behind it; movement towards alleviating the suffering of another. Compassion implies relationship, not just tossing a few dollars or some food in another's direction. Compassion says 'I see you' - 'I will seek to help you.' Compassion is powerful and has the ability to lift someone up. It is a key element of my work and I can tell you that it is part of the foundation of change in the counseling relationship.
One element that I find missing in parenting today is compassion. Sadly, as a family counselor I find that many folks parenting children today didn't get much compassion from their parents. Many associate compassion with weakness. Some fear that if they show compassion their children will think they are 'soft' and take advantage of them. Quite the contrary. Compassion requires strength, and it belies a warrior spirit beneath the empathy. If you don't believe me, talk to someone who has a child with a disability, addiction, or a behavioral problem or learning disability. To continue to love and care and get little in return takes a lot of strength and will power. Many attempt to use compassion but end up enabling unwanted behavior. That is an example of pity only - a sense of compassion wants the best for the other person and therefore it isn't afraid to hold someone accountable to do their part of alleviating the suffering.
So, what does parenting with compassion look like? Here a few ingredients:
- Clear communication and clear expectations
- Making invitations when there is work to be done and doing the work in relationship
- Delivering consequences in love and always restoring the relationship afterwards
- Listening to the whole story the child has to tell
- Undivided attention during times of play and conversation
- Seeing the world through the child's eyes (can't do this without relationship!)
- Building and sustaining relationship through intentional connecting and play
- Not excusing poor choices, but seeing a moment to teach through giving consequences
- Remembering what it was like to be the child's age and understanding their limitations
- Using words of love and encouragement
Remember, parenting with compassion is action based. Learn to add this ingredient to your parenting toolbox and you'll change in how you see your child, and experience a closer, richer relationship with them.