The other day I saw a comment online about “chasing the little ones while they squeal and you pretend you enjoy it.” and I thought how sad to have to pretend to enjoy one’s children. Then I thought “Isn’t enjoying what our children enjoy along with them a good way of practicing “bearing one another’s burdens?”
Because if I were just looking out for what I wanted to do to relax and feel good, chasing Jack around the room, while he alternately squeals and says “tickle me!” probably wouldn’t be my first choice. I’d much rather sit down with a book! But somehow I need to demonstrate a truth to him- that he is a blessing and a gift to me- and I do that by entering into his joys and sorrows.
It’s a question I find I need to ask especially when the parenting is tough: am I empathizing with the children as a group and as individuals? Am I building relationships by entering into the things that make life good and (especially?) the things that make life hard for them? Am I choosing to bear their burdens?
This is not easy. I know from plenty of experience that when two are squabbling, one is arguing with a school assignment and the toddler is clinging to my leg saying “hold, Baby” for the tenth time in an hour, empathizing with anyone is far from my mind and not something I’m terribly capable of doing. I don’t feel their pain at all. I feel mine!
But that’s where I think I can so easily go wrong. I don’t feel it, so I don’t do it. Thank you, modern culture and sin nature that say “please yourself”. I forget that I’m not called to feel like it, I’m called to do it and by doing it I demonstrate love.
It’s tricky. Especially when there is a consequence for naughtiness or foolishness that is causing angry or sad feelings. I need to let the children know that I do understand what they are feeling and why they feel that way but not allow my empathy with them to prevent me from enforcing the consequences of their actions. I want them to understand that the choices they make can make them unhappy and that they need to think before they choose something that makes them happy in the moment. I spend a lot of time repeating something like, “Why are you sitting here instead of playing with your brother? (I did such and such) What choice should you make next time?”
Choosing to lovingly and kindly hold them accountable and loving and kindly share their joys even when I’m busy is how I build relationships with them, how I teach them to be adults someday and the kind of people I can count as friends. I’m looking forward to those days, and seeking to enjoy these!