A few months ago we were at my mom’s house eating dinner. If you don’t know my mom, she’s an awesome cook. She had made one of my favorite meals of all time: meatloaf with green beans and mashed potatoes. I was in heaven.
“Oh gross,” the middle child exclaimed.
Parental embarrassment ensued, and then we got to talking about it.
My mom talked about how her dad’s rule as he was growing up was that no one complains about food. If you do, you’re just going to have to figure out a way to make it to the next meal.
That was my mom’s rule growing up. Complain and wait until the next meal to eat.
And from that day onward that has been our rule. You don’t complain about food. You don’t have to like it. But be polite and don’t whine about it.
A couple of days ago we sat down to tamales, rice, and corn, and the middle child was being a pickle about the tamales. He stepped over the line and Mom said, “You may be excused”, which is code for, “You’re not eating until breakfast.”
He sat there and cried and the look on his face of ‘I will not be eating for another 12 hours and I was already starting to feel hungry’ was in full force.
I felt truly bad for him. He made a mistake.
I’ve heard that you can’t really relate to your children with love until you learn how to truly empathize with their mistakes. A few days ago I had a breakthrough in that. My middle son needed to learn how to treat others. But he also had to deal with a bad situation. Taking away the consequence wouldn’t have been empathetic: if there’s no pain in which to share, then there is no empathy. But also acting coldly towards him with a “this is how it is” attitude isn’t empathetic either.
My wife saw that I had felt bad for my son, and she interpreted it as questioning her judgement on the consequence. That wasn’t it at all. Empathy holds this strange place in between allowing consequences and loving others.
Empathy is when you share in someone’s suffering. It’s something I discovered a few days ago with my son and something that will transform my relationship with all three of them.