Before we dive into this post, I feel the need to clarify that I am, indeed, a very compassionate person. If I could break HIPPA laws and have you contact some of my clients, I believe they would confirm this. If I would break my children’s relative anonymity, they would confirm this. But, some days, when the crying and screaming has been happening all day long . . . well . . . the following happens.
My daughter leaned her head back too hard and too fast. The thwack sound of her head cracking against the wall clearly indicated that she hurt herself. She began to cry. I sighed and meandered over to her, checked to make sure there wasn’t a large goose egg forming on her skull and that there was no bleeding, and then said all the words that a caring mom would say. I didn’t put my arm around her, because her sensory system was already overloaded and my touch would have only made things worse. But, I sat next to her and stayed with her. On the outside, all my actions were right on, I suppose. On the inside . . . I felt nothing. Correction . . . I felt no empathy or compassion. I felt all sorts of irritation and frustration and my mind boldly shouted in my head that she Just. Needed. To Stop. Crying. My body performed the motions to hopefully expedite the stopping of the crying. My soul, mind, and emotions, were checked out and I just really didn’t care all that much.
Feel free to judge. But, I am guessing that I am not the only mama to a Fringy Child who has felt this way. In fact, after speaking with friends who have fringy kids, I KNOW I’m not the only mama who’s felt this way.
The crying often never stops. Our own sensory systems become overloaded and we just NEED the quiet. For those of you without a fringy kid, or with a quiet fringy kid, you know those rough toddler days, when everything was dramatic and sent them to the ground whining or crying or wailing as though you just told them their favorite puppy had died? Those days when your toddler would throw a fit because you gave them the sandwich with the jelly on top instead of the peanut butter? Yeah. In my house, those can be our every days. And our daughter is 6+ years past that preschool chaos. At some point, it doesn’t matter why they are crying. All you can think about is that you want the crying to stop.
A human being can really only give so much. At some point, our ability to stand in someone else’s shoes, to be compassionate and to feel empathy dries up until we can replenish the well of understanding. And so, we can cognitively understand that someone is hurting, and we can go through the motions, but we simply don’t have the internal resources or depth to be able to feel for them.
Parenting a fringy child, we’ve built some pretty deep and vast wells. We’ve learned how to give more than we ever thought possible. We’ve surprised ourselves on the days when we’ve been collapsed on the floor in an exhausted heap, only to rise again when we hear our child burst into tears one more time. We spend our every waking moment trying to empathize, understand, be compassionate, and look beyond the behaviors to discover what is actually upsetting our child at this given moment. We give. A Lot. And sometimes, we’ve given all we can. We miraculously keep putting one foot in front of the other, but our well of empathy is empty.
So, on those days, when you really don’t care why your child is crying, you just want them to stop, please be gentle with yourself. You are already empty. Throwing some sludge of guilt and shame into the well isn’t going to fill it up with anything helpful. Be gentle. Take it as a sign that you need some time. Time to refresh. Time to be quiet. Time to fill yourself up again.
On those days, know that you are not alone. You are not a bad parent. You are drained. You are exhausted. You are literally giving your all. It’s time to ask for help. Find someone you trust and take the risk of being vulnerable. Let them know that your compassion is fizzling away. Ask them to help you find a way to get filled back up.
And, for those days, borrow your child’s ear defenders. Or better yet, buy your own. Pour yourself a hot drink, cover your ears, if your children are safe, just let them cry, and escape to a quiet place to reset. Even for just a few minutes. Or for as long as you need.
Your compassion will come back. Your empathy will return. And some day, the crying will stop.