Watching our new fave obsession Survivor tonight with the guys, as one of the recently voted-off contestants poignantly shared her sadness at leaving the game, we experienced a game-changing moment ourselves.
Z: “Charlie’s eyes are all teary and watery! Ha ha ha.”
C: “Shut up Zach.”
JG: “Zach, don’t be a jerk. Leave your brother alone. Have some empathy!”
Z: “My eyes were teary too!”
We then had a discussion about the values of kindness and empathy and not ever making their friends or family feel bad (Shout-out to my 6th grade teacher Jeff Sloan my correct usage of bad) about their feelings or what they’re going through. Yes, kind of a heavy moment generated from a Reality Show, (who says that TV isn’t an excellent educational tool?) but these are the kinds of moments that you have to grab on to when presented with the opportunity.
I’ve been super open and upfront with the kids about my CJ. I don’t want to hide it from them (It doesn’t mean that I share the nitty-gritty details of my surgery and reconstruction with them though – we talk in honest but general terms.) Last week when I had hit my lowest point emotionally, and the guys came home from basketball practice and greeted me with hugs, I started to cry a little. They asked me what was wrong and I explained I’d had a ‘bad day’ and was feeling sad about it.
JG: “You know how sometimes you feel kind of down and sad and tired and don’t know why, especially on Sunday nights? That’s just how I’m feeling today. Sad and tired.”
C: “That’s okay mommy. I love you.”
Z: “Are you going to die?”
Luckily I had been semi-prepared for this question, as I knew it was coming at some point. I told them that no I wasn’t going to die today, but yes some people do sometimes die from cancer. They knew this already because we had lost a dear friend (and father of a classmate of theirs) earlier this year and we shared the pain and sadness with them. They’ve seen us grieve and how we keep his memory alive with funny stories. I reassured them that my cancer was really small, that they discovered it early, that I was otherwise healthy and going to take strong medicine to help me get better but it might take some time. I reminded them that while I was getting better and stronger every day physically, that it’s different than how I’m sometimes doing with my feelings.
[There’s a really great article here about talking to kids about cancer]
I want my kids to understand that people get sad, and it’s okay to feel sadness and that it’s not an emotion that you have to deny or be embarrassed about. It’s not a sign of weakness and it’s not a bad thing. I want them to learn to be open with their feelings whatever they may be, and feel comfortable sharing them to those who care about them. Like many girls her age, Miss J has experienced a bit of predictable “girl drama” in school this year and we’ve subsequently had a lot of open conversations about her feelings. While I can empathize with her and share my own childhood friendship battle scars (and my heart breaks for her), I’m also heartened that she feels safe confiding in me.
Sharing challenges, pain, regret, and bad decisions can be the glue that binds people together during trying times. Especially when the person on the other end can show empathy by essentially saying, “Yes. I get you. I’ve gone through something similar. I know that emotion. I remember how I felt.” [Need a quick reminder on empathy vs. sympathy?] The closest friendships that I savor and enjoy are the ones where we can be super honest with each other in this regard. And no ‘judgies‘.
So while the list of things that I want to teach these pint-sized human beings we share our home with are many of the things my own parents taught me and grows every day – Responsibility! Good study habits! Honesty! Self-Reliance! Brush your teeth! Read the instruction manual! Have a hide-a-key! How to drive downtown to Union Square! – empathy is right up there with the rest of them.