Parents are often inadvertently cruel to their children simply because they don’t recognize that they live in a separate reality from their kids. The same thing happened to those parents when they were kids, because we keep teaching each new generation false ideas about how reality works. Parents can’t feel bad about that because they are trapped inside an illusion.
Even I wouldn’t have recognized that illusion if I hadn’t had my accident, and the important conversations that others started with me. They’re largely the reason I spent my entire childhood and adolescence, thinking about about the kinds of things people usually don’t think about unless they’re doing something like studying philosophy in university. But by then they’re living inside the illusion, and that’s all they can teach their kids.
The trick is, both the parent and kid will generally see the world as being ‘out there’ and that things are happening to us. It’s the common, ego-based, outside-in approach. But in reality it’s the other way around. The outside world exists because of the choices we make in our interior world—the world of our 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 beliefs and awarenesses.
How this translates to the relationship between a parent and child is that the parent uses their life’s 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 they are so hurt that they hurt themselves. And it’s real pain. The problem is, the parent will 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. So if this is the first cut for the kid, not matter how big it is, it is likely to be, to them, 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 ‘later,’ is useless to them now. 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.
Since kids don’t know that it won’t seem so bad when compared to the rest of their life, their biggest loss is best compared to our biggest loss—even if our 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 parenting, just through awareness. It will certainly help a great deal with us all being more empathetic toward children.
Always respect the feelings of all others—including children—as genuine. We should always do our best to remember that their pain is their pain, and suggestions that some future version of them will be okay is in a way, disrespecting where they are now. Rather than rushing them through the pain for our sake, we’re better to slow down and truly empathize with them where they are, emotionally. That alone can help create a powerful and useful connection with another human being, and all the better if that human being is our child.
Treat each other well and have an awesome day everyone.
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.