Empathy is a quality that develops with age. I am convinced this is true. When I was in my 20’s, I had a complete inability to view the world through the eyes of my mother. I had no inkling what I put her through as she raised me! I knew I was a handful, but I didn’t grasp what it did to her heart. That is a lack of empathy.
My mother experienced her share of losses both as a child and as an adult. She “lost” her own mother to mental illness. Consequently, her childhood was tumultuous to say the least. Her older brother died when she was young. And then she was widowed at age 50. When I was 17, it never occurred to me that she worried incessantly about the choices I was making that she knew could have had dire consequences.
It was a miracle, but I really did complete an undergraduate degree not long before my 22nd birthday. And I married not long afterwards. I do believe my mother’s hair stopped greying as fast that year. She no doubt was pleased that it appeared I might actually become a responsible adult. There were no cell phones or email in those days, so my phone conversations with her were sporadic. She sent cards and letters, but I wasn’t so good about writing.
And then in 1988, Jan called her to let her know I was in the hospital. An unexpected accident left me with a broken pelvis and a 5 day hospital stay. At this stage in life, I was still seriously lacking in empathy. The accident was no exception. I had a total inability to view that event through her eyes. But …our relationship change permanently after I was dismissed from the hospital. We started talking on the phone every week. We rarely missed a Sunday evening conversation. The overall tone of our interactions was different… I think I finally had a tiny inkling of what a mother’s love must be like. I was finally growing in empathy.
I treasure the years that followed that accident. We grew a lot closer.
My mother was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer in August of 1991. She died on October 30, 1991. I have no regrets regarding the care that we provided for her during that time period. The roles were reversed. I was forced to be the caregiver and the nurturer. Watching her decline very rapidly was an exercise in empathy I would not wish on anyone, but it changed me. I told her about a month before her death that we were expecting our second child. As I watched her reaction, my level of empathy was off the scale. As a young parent of a 2 year old and an unborn child, I was finally grasping the things she had felt for decades.
I have a simple encouragement for parents. Your grown children may appear be lacking in empathy. They may not understand your heart. They have no clue what the love a parent is comprised of. Give them some time. Let them live a little life. And over time, they will come to appreciate your heart. And they will empathize with you profoundly.
Happy Mother’s Day to all of the moms who are putting up with those of us that are lacking in gratitude, sensitivity, and yes…empathy! May your special day be blessed.