Parenting & Sympathy

Wow- today was a rough one!  It started and ended pretty painful.   When we arrived at Annie’s yochien (kindergarten), she started clinging to me and did NOT want to.  She started screaming when the school principal took her from my arms and carried her through the school yard to her class.  I just stood behind the gate and watched, and prayed.   She cried for quite awhile at school, I found out afterwards from her teacher.  I have NO idea what set her off, but with her personality, once she is set off…things can get dicey.

Tonight, bedtime was -ouch.  Owen was over-tired I think from Japanese writing class after school and sports club.  He and I struggled together through his homework- math word problems that he had a hard time understanding (because of language).  In the process of going to bed he pushed Olivia, wouldn’t say sorry, and things just got worse as he pulled his bed apart.  After I came downstairs, he was up on his bed sobbing for me to come back.  We hugged, he said I’m sorry, I prayed with him, and we put his bed back together.  Ten minutes later Annie came downstairs crying — at first I yelled at her to get back in bed- she went upstairs sobbing.  I stopped in my tracks, realizing that my response was inappropriate.  I said I was sorry,  took her back up, prayed with her.   As I write this, I have my fingers crossed that they are all, at last, asleep.

Man- it has been a rough day to be a mom!  We have had a lot of house guests and ministry obligations recently, which our children generally enjoy, but I wonder at times if we need to figure out  how to better connect with our children during these busy seasons.    There are also a lot of hellos and goodbyes. Today they said goodbye to our good friend Paul.  We also have a friend Allison staying with us who the kids have really enjoyed.  Owen keeps asking if it’s her last day with us – it is almost like he needs to prepare himself to say goodbye to her.  Our children are incredibly fortunate to have so many friends and family investing in their lives, but it also might be wearing on them in ways that we cannot always see.

I recently finished a really helpful parenting book — written one hundred years ago!  It’s called “Hints on Child Training” by H. Clay Trumbull – and there were several chapters that caught my attention, in particular.

One chapter near the end was called, “The Place of Sympathy in Child Training”. Trumbull takes the perspective that most parents can easily give love, but many parents miss out a great deal on not showing sympathy to their children.  Sympathy used today may be a slightly different definition– perhaps more like empathy.  Here are some quotes that help explain what he means:

“In his joys as in sorrows a true child wants someone to share his feelings rather than to guide them.  If he has fallen and hurt himself, a child is more helped by being spoken to in evident sympathy than by being told that he must not cry, or that his hurt is a very trifling matter.  The love that shows itself in tenderly blinding up his wound, in a case like this, has less hold upon the child than the sympathy that expresses a full sense of his pain…

“In order to sympathize with another, you must be able to put yourself in his place, mentally and emotionally; to occupy, for the time being, his point of view, and to see that which he sees, and as he sees it, as he looks out thence…. How the child ought to feel is one thing.  How the child does feel is quite another thing.  The parent may know the former better than the child does, but the latter the child knows better than the parent.  Until a parent has learned just how the child looks at any matter, the parent is incapable of so coming alongside of the child in his estimate of that matter as to win his confidence and to work with him toward a more correct view of it…. to stand with the child and point him to the course he ought to pursue, is more likely to inspire him to honest efforts in that direction, until he comes to think and to feel as his parents would have him.”

There is so much more good stuff in this chapter.  One more quote:  “It is a great thing for a parent to have such sympathy with his child that his child can tell him freely of his worst thoughts or his greatest failures without any fear of seeming to shock that parent, and so to chill the child’s confidence.  It is a great thing for a parent to have such sympathetic thoughts of his child when the child has unintentionally broken some fragile keepsake peculiarly dear to the parent, as to be more moved by regret for the child’s sorrow over the mishap than for the loss of the precious relic.  There is no such power over children as comes from such sympathy with children.”

What do you think?  Reading this – again- reminds how much growing I need to continue to do. This idea of sympathy has really challenged some of my standard quick reactions to my children.  There are times when instant discipline is necessary; but far too many times I have lost the opportunity to come along side and understand what is going on in their hearts.  There is much that happened today that I simply don’t understand– and perhaps they don’t understand either.  But I can keep learning to listen better…to sit with them in their places or confusion… tosay I’m sorry…. to love with a greater inclination towards sympathy.

If you think of it, pray for our family this busy summer, as our children continue to adjust to school, friends, homework, clubs all in a different language.  Here are a few fun photos this past week of these treasures God has entrusted to us.

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3 thoughts on “Parenting & Sympathy

  1. Great post, Sue. I’m reading a book called Love and Logic. They stress showing empathy to the child. And not the sarcastic kind that WANTS THAT KID in time out for a bit so Mama can have a break. I want to re-read your post a few more times, because I truly want Jun always be honest with her failures and fears – now and when she is older. Thanks!

    I’m sure you have thought of it, but calendars with pictures the kids understand might help them know when someone special is coming or leaving – so they can prepare their hearts. (Prepare your heart is a phrase I often use to cue Jun that some change is coming up.(

    • Hi Kim-
      Thanks so much. Another friend recommended that book- I should put it on my To Buy list for when I go to the US with Annie… I really loved the Trumbull book of you have a chance to pick it up.
      I have NOT thought of using the calendar- I love your idea. The calendar is getting more and more important to them- I think I haven’t been good at utilizing it. That’s a good summer project for us. Owen will often ask about “how many days until…” (summer vacation; we go camping, etc.). Maybe I can get some good stickers? We have a big calendar that would work and help the kids. We actually learned a helpful tip from a neighbor mom – Owen’s closest Japanese friend — he is only allowed to play Wii/DS/games on “Red days” – on the Japanese calendars as you know Sat/Sundays and holidays are in red. Black days (school/week days) he can’t play games. We started the same rule a year ago and it has helped so much to set perameters. So Annie and Owen are always asking when the next red day is—- we can just add to that.
      Thanks Kim. Let’s pray together to be moms who show that kind of empathy. I fail all the time but thank God that He can keep changing me!

  2. I think that our kids have so many things in their lives which are way outside their control. The calendar idea helps give a context to life. Good suggestions, Kim and Sue.

    Even with our older kids, I realize I don’t always give them enough lead time to figure out “what comes next.” As cool teenagers, they tend to not obviously be listening, but I can tell by the questions that come later on, that they are trying to put life in order.

    I hope that you DO have a few “break” days with the immediate family between all the hosting.

    Love you all!

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