Baby AJ turned 1 month yesterday. As an adoptive Mom, I’m not entitled to maternity leave* so the husb and I have been trying means and ways to juggle work and caring for the new-born simultaneously from Day 1. My Mil was kind enough to fly from Penang for 10 days to aid in the transition; my Mum comes over in the mornings on most days but from dusk to dawn (the dreaded witching hours and night feeds), we are all on our own. In our sleep-deprived and exhausted state, the patience wears thin, especially when the baby refused to be pacified after a full feed, a nice warm bath, nappy change, soothing music and baby massage. Some nights, we are driven to our wits’ end when the wailing just won’t stop for no apparent reasons. A sense of helplessness overwhelms us, and we wonder what have we gotten ourselves into – to choose to parent a new-born after 6 years of relative ease with Dana. Each time I find the husb losing his cool (and I losing my patience with him for losing his cool), I remind ourselves that the baby is just equally helpless- crying is his only form of communication with us, his caregivers. So we gotta to be extra patient, extra loving because he is crying to express a need (most of which are physiological at this point). It really is, easier said than done because there are a whole lot of stressors (mostly work-related) which contribute to the tipping point.
|Giving him a good bath after I come home from work…|
An article ‘How to Be an Empathetic Parent Even When It Feels Hard’ on the Huffpost Parents affirms my positive self-talk. Here’s an excerpt to encourage all fellow parents who finds this parenting journey tough-going. Here goes:
Sometimes when I watch my child crumple into a screeching, sobbing mess at my feet, all I hear in my head is, “You have got to be kidding me! I don’t have time for this!” I can’t feel his pain, I can’t understand his mind and I can’t find empathy for him. I want him to snap out of his nonsense at this instant. But he can’t. Not without my empathetic touch.
Why can being empathetic be so hard?
1. We’re exhausted.
It is SO hard to understand another’s point of view or distress when we feel exhausted. Tell that to parents of a newborn who hasn’t had a good uninterrupted sleep for the past few weeks/months.
2. We feel overwhelmed by our stressors.
When financial, work, relationship or physical stress sets in, we often cannot see past our own challenges.
3. We feel annoyed or impatient with an unfinished task at hand. We get caught in an avalanche of anger.
When we are about to snap, it is very hard to feel empathy for others. When we have something on our mind, such as a specific task to complete, we can get preoccupied with not getting that task done and not be able to feel someone else’s distress.
4. We feel trapped and unable to get away.
Anyone who has experienced feeling trapped or abandoned can get quite triggered by a screaming child. I have heard many Moms say they go numb and want to walk out of the front door. One Mom said it’s like getting a puppy and suddenly realizing what you’ve got yourself into, except unlike a puppy, you can’t give the child back.
5. We want to avoid the feelings another is experiencing.
Some parents might know exactly what their child is feeling, but just don’t want to feel or understand that irrational fear or sadness.
What can parents do to increase their empathy?
I believe the first step to being able to deeply connect with the emotions of our children is to be able to shed our own agendas, exhaustion and triggers. The thing a screaming, overwhelmed child needs most is for an adult they feel close with to stop talking, to open our arms and just be there until the screams and crying subside.
When our child is losing it and we are about to, also, it’s a great idea to remember that when we are at the end of our parenting rope, our children feel the same way, except they don’t have tools to manage those intense feelings yet.
This is what I recommend to increase empathy when doing so is hard:
1. Take control of exhaustion and a busy life.
I made big changes to create space for myself. I did this by making a schedule that included time for rest and fun. I also stopped trying to cram 15 things into a block of alone time and instead tried for 10. I also let go of some tasks that I really wanted to do, but weren’t essential. I adjust my schedules and get the word “busy” out of my life.
2. Don’t take another’s struggles, meltdowns, or freak-outs personally.
Young children are not attacking you; they just don’t have the language or ability to communicate their intense emotions (yet). If your buttons are getting pushed, it is your responsibility to address that, not your child’s.
3. Take charge of intense emotions, do not let them take charge of you.
This is a process that requires learning skills and practice. I have some suggestions on how to do that in this article.
4. Stay in charge of self-talk each time empathy is needed and emotions flare.
When my child is freaking out, before I start to feel sorry for myself or allow anger to take over, I say, “STOP!” Then I say, “This is not about you” followed with, “On your knees.” (When I drop to my knees to be at eye level near my overwhelmed child, for some reason an instant connection happens).
5. Never be afraid to acknowledge you need help.
And lastly, if any of the above feels impossible, it is time for some help. I continually count on my trusted friends, husband and sister to keep an even keel. If you have had traumatic events and difficult challenges in your life, I encourage you to seek support and learn skills that will be helpful for you and your family.
Empathy is when a person accurately communicates that they see another’s intentions and emotional state. It means watching our child’s frustration and focusing on how life feels in that little child’s body, while putting our own anger and agenda into the background. I constantly tell myself that ‘this too shall pass…he wouldn’t stay a baby for long’ so I should cherish this stage while it lasts. I’m gonna persevere and try parenting with a bit more empathy today than yesterday. Won’t you join me?
|His hands in mine…|
* For those of you who must know, adoptive Moms are eligible to 1 month’s adoption leave (as opposed to 4 months maternity leave), but it can only be granted upon the passing of the Adoption Order (which usually takes 3 to 6 months).