A Happy New Year Full of Empathy and Strength!
Last night, I had a great dinner with a old friend. We hadn’t seen each other in quite a while though, and this morning I realized we’d drifted because I’ve avoided him. Whenever we’d chat over the past few years, he’d start giving unsolicited, unhelpful parenting advice. Maybe you know the type?
I knew it’s because he didn’t truly understand my kid’s #FASD, but it’s still hard to sit through that over and over. Maybe you’ve experienced this?
Anyways, that didn’t happen at last night’s dinner. He asked questions, was supportive, and even acknowledged how hard it must be to parent a kid like that.
So, I got to thinking: Why the change? What was going on that was different?
Somehow, my friend was connecting with my kid’s struggles, rather than his behaviors. He was showing #empathy with my kid instead of being judgmental and telling me what I should do.
Was he a different person? No, I don’t think so. Everything else in our conversation last night was the same as always. There were no huge changes in his life or new insights he shared with me. He’s not the type who would have gone to an FASD training or anything like that either. Maybe he was different. Maybe there’s more information out there about FASD he came across incidentally. Maybe it was just a lucky day. I don’t know. However, the experience did make me reexamine our conversation, and I have an idea of what was different.
I talk about my foster son differently than I used to. When my friend asked how my kid was doing, I realize I started by sharing his strengths rather than venting about my problems with him. Maybe that started our conversation with a more positive tone. Maybe that led to a path of empathy and compassion. Maybe that led to more support for me as a parent.
We’ll never know exactly how it worked, but starting with the strengths seemed to give my friend a fuller context of my son’s life. Then when I shared a struggle or two he was having, I described the struggles emotionally and cognitively rather than behaviorally, so the struggles made more sense. My friend was able to understand and identify with those struggles, and even identified with one of them.
Finally I mentioned the behaviors briefly, and they made sense to my friend! He actually said, “Of course he’ll need to learn to get along better with authority figures as an adult, but I can see why he’d get overwhelmed and act that way, refusing to do the schoolwork and all.” Then he complimented my parental forbearance.
The victory, of course, was his empathy and understanding for my son, but it was nice to get a compliment on my parenting for once.
It reminded me of my last blog entry–a shamefully long period of 12 months ago–in which I wished for FASD behaviors to make sense to folks for a change. And here it is.
This isn’t the only success I’ve had lately (and rest assured, there are still plenty of “failures,” or as I force myself to call them, “learning experiences”). The year 2015 was a huge learning experience for me to gain even more from parenting a kid living on the FASD spectrum, and I’m working on several projects to share that experience in 2016 with those who might be in similar situations as I have been.
In the meantime, here is a blessing for the new year 2016 (anonymous author, found on appleseeds.org):
Creator, in this new year please give me…
A few friends who understand me and remain my friends;
A work to do which has real value, without which the world would be the poorer;
A mind unafraid to travel, even though the trail be not blazed;
An understanding heart;
A sense of humor;
Time for quiet, silent meditation;
A feeling of your presence; and
The patience to wait for the coming of these things,
With the wisdom to recognize them when they come. Amen.