Parents are often inadvertently cruel to their children. It’s an entirely innocent mistake. They don’t even notice they’re doing it because they don’t recognize that they live in a separate reality from their kids. That’s the kind of thing I would think about. It’s the reason I’m weird. The things I spent my childhood and adolence and adulthood thinking about are not the kinds of things people usually think about—at least not until they’re doing something like studying philosophy in university. And so without that more complete perspective, very loving parents can easily end up really disrespecting their own kids.
The trick is that both the parent and kid will generally see the world as being out there and happening to them. It’s an outside-in approach. But in reality it’s the other way around. The outside world exists because of the choices you make in your interior world—the world of your thinking. And because the definition of an individual is someone who thinks their own thoughts, it means that everyone is living in a different matrix of belief and awareness.
How this translates to the relationship between a parent and child is that the parent uses their life reference points when discussing things with their kid. But that lacks empathy, because you’re not really talking about the same thing. Case in point: if a kid is going through their first romantic breakup it’s normal that they’re completely upended by the experience. Tortured. Agonized. Maybe in tears, maybe angry, maybe so hurt they bury themselves. But it’s real pain. The problem is that the parent then contextualizes this against their life experience.
What this all means is that the parent looks at the breakup on a 50 year scale of life events. With that kind of perspective they can realize that they have had numerous painful breakups, but that’s been mixed in with marriages, babies, illnesses, the deaths of people and pets. The experience is graded on a much finer curve with an adult. But the adult needs to remember that, whether you’ve cut off a finger or an arm, it hurts all the same. That from the kid’s perspective, the breakup could be the most painful experience they have ever had.
Sure they will eventually have additional experiences that will make the current one seem less powerful, but for now this is all they can know and telling them about how it’ll feel better is useless to them. We don’t hear about experiences, we have them. That’s the only way we know anything. If it’s the kid’s worst experience ever then it deserves compassion. They don’t know that it won’t seem so bad when compared to the rest of their life. So their biggest loss is best compared to your biggest loss—even if that loss is much greater in relative terms. Because that’s the point: everything is relative.
Don’t be dismissive of your kids experiences. Take the time to remember what these things are like at their age. Be like a writer and actually take the time to remember what it was like to be different ages. You might be surprised at what you remember. And the more you do it, you might be surprised at how good you get at it. And that will help a great deal with being empathetic toward your children.
Bottom line, it’s important to always respect the feelings of others as genuine. But in doing so, always do your best to remember that pain is pain and diminishing that with casual offers of future comfort is to miss an opportunity to make a powerful and useful connection with another human being. And all the better if that human being is your child. Have an awesome day.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.