Brene Brown tells us, before we can show empathy and really love someone, we need to be able to love ourselves. Like truly love ourselves and all our faults.
So when my children start showing characteristics I didn’t like about myself, at the most rushed and stressed out times of our day, it takes me going back to my childhood to truly feel what they are feeling and be empathetic instead of losing my temper and telling them to stop being so whiny and sensitive.
Here’s the thing. Growing up, I was super sensitive to materials, seams, tightness on my arms. I never wore jeans until I was over 16, because seriously, it felt so stiff and abrasive to my skin! I would wait until 5 minutes before the bus came to put my bra on, and I’d rush home and take it off immediately. And let me just tell you about competition leotards. I would cringe every time I had to put one on, and would wait in the bathroom until right before we had to go out for warm ups to put my arms in those tight, decorative, seams-everywhere type sleeves.
I can tell you I wear jeans now, but I still wait until the last possible moment to put them on, and I shudder every time I have to put on a form fitting, long sleeve shirt. My sweaters just sit in my closet and never get worn.
I get it honestly. I remember my dad saying how itchy dress shirts made him feel, and still to this day wants only 100 percent cotton.
Fast forward, as my first born grew up, we were constantly in battles because the seams in his socks felt funny, the elastic band in his pants were “hurting” him, and to this day he says when he puts jeans on, it feels like they are “cutting into his legs.”
This morning, we woke up early and I had to get 3 kids breakfast, dressed, lunches packed, and out of the house by 7:15am to make the 40 minute drive to gymnastics practice for a coach meeting, team pictures, and practice.
The morning went as usual…my 3 year old screaming…never quite sure what he is mad about…dragging my 5 year old out of bed, grumpy and whiny because why should he have to get up this early when it’s not a school day…and then the drama began with my daughter. She put on her competition leotard for the first time. The tears started, the foot began stomping (I very much do not agree with kids stomping their foot at you), along with the yelling that she couldn’t wear this, she is quitting, she doesn’t want to be in the team picture and is no longer going to compete.
I started losing my temper. She wouldn’t brush her teeth, she hadn’t eaten breakfast, we hadn’t fixed her hair, she was only half way dressed, and we had to leave in 5 minutes! I began to yell back, and then had to stop and take a deep breath. If I think about it, I know exactly how she feels. I remember clearly being that little girl and how I hated those competition leos.
Tearfully, she cried, “Why do they have to pick out leotards like this? Why do they have to have so much decoration and lines going through them?!”.
Bringing myself back to her place, I was able to act a little more empathetically instead of hounding her to hurry and that she was going to make us late. So I replied, “I hated my competition leotards too. I would wait until the last minute to put them on. Why can’t they just pick out plain ones without all the seams going through the arms? It was always hard for me to put on, but after an hour, I forgot about it and got used to it.”
That seemed to help her. So even though we never fixed her hair, we made it in the car and half way to the gym, she said, “I don’t feel it as much anymore. I think I’m getting used to it.”
When our kids take on our characteristics that we didn’t like about ourselves, it can be easy to get defensive and angry at them, instead of just feeling with them.
When my daughter comes to me and says she can’t throw her back-handspring and won’t be allowed to compete floor her first meet, when I know she has done it by herself multiple times, it would be easy to say, “Just do it. It’s all in your head. You just need to throw it!”
That’s because of how down and ashamed I was of my own fears as a child…and I remember I wanted to throw those backwards skills more than anyone, yet my body wouldn’t do it. I remember angrily telling myself, “What is wrong with you? All you have to do is throw it!” I hated feeling like I disappointed coaches, the team, and most of all myself. Brene Brown tells us you have to love yourself..all your flaws…to really show empathy… to not say those things to your children that you said to yourself as a child.
Now, instead, I can give her tips. I can say, “I’m sorry. I totally understand how frustrating that is and I know exactly how it feels. It’s like your body just won’t do what you tell it to. Here are some things we can work on to help your mind tell your body you can do it.”
And then I see her workout, see the dedication and strength she has, and start seeing some of the good characteristics I hopefully passed on.