How I Learned That Compassion For Your Kid Can Be Hard Work

My daughter gets headaches. Not the take two aspirin and wake me in the morning kind. But the kind that brought her to her knees, crazed like a caged animal, throwing up, screaming, “I’m going to die."

After many battles around tracking her food, we discovered that she's allergic to wheat, yeast and sugar. My controlling attitude over my nine-year-old's diet will surely land her in therapy one day. Policing what she puts in her body has become my full time job. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine wearing this blue, policewoman uniform.

My husband and I will look at one another after yet another series of questions, “What did you eat?” "Did you drink enough water?" "Was there dessert?" and not so jokingly guess the amount of years this millionth inquisition will add to her time on the couch.

You would think I have the utmost compassion for my daughter when she is vomiting gluten from the bowels of her being. And mostly I do. But other times, I feel myself going numb, like after a dreaded visit to the dentist chair. The numbness can be excruciating in its own right.

Compassion can be tricky. In some places, I'm a most compassionate human. My friends will tell you that I'm rock solid in this department. And so would my clients.

Did I mention that I'm a psychotherapist? My specialty: loving others, and listening deeply. I listen with only one purpose: to help people open their hearts. I know that listening with compassion can give someone else a chance to suffer less. And even one hour of this can offer healing.

We are all living examples of the fundamental ambiguity of being human. I am a mama lion who loves her baby cub fiercely! With that said, I have been known to grill her as she fights the migraine monster with questions like, “Will you remember this pain the next time you choose to eat pasta?”

Not my proudest moments.

My daughter came home yesterday with a headache and within hours it had morphed into the migraine monster that it often becomes. On her hands and knees, yelling out in a state of delirium, her eyes with the familiar look of caged-in craze that I've come to dread. I, too on my hands and knees praying silently to whoever will listen, “Please take my baby’s pain away,” over and over again. This is our life now. We are batting one a week. I say "we" because when she goes down, the game is over.

We are so in this together. Rumi says, “Your path is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” I’m devoted to breaking down these barriers. Looking at the walls that cover over can be one of the hardest things. But this is the path for me — to look at the not so pretty parts — the places that turn us into stone.

To continue showing up for my cub with compassion is a non-negotiable for me. This is where my own monsters can swallow me whole. Our survival patterns can harden our hearts. I’m a work in progress, but aren’t we all?

While trying to melt my inner-iceberg — a mountain made up of judgment and coldness, I am learning to open to the softer warmer spots, where fear resides underneath. I have found that it takes the same amount of energy to deny our experience as it does to move toward. Attuning feels a lot better — for both of us.

When I drop the story line — "She ate something she wasn’t supposed to," "This is NOT how I want to spend my night," "God please not again" — and experience what all this messy stuff feels like behind the story line, which is fear and sorrow, the hardness melts away. The officer in my heart can then soften her edges.

By being kinder to ourselves, we become kinder to others. What you do to others, you do to yourself. What you do to yourself, you do to others. Compassion has to include oneself.

Call it an amended version of the Golden Rule.

The good news is that every difficult opportunity ends up being another chance for transformation. Each challenging encounter offers growth. And this is mine. Plain and simple, loving this deeply brings me to my edge.

I speak of these things here because if we all went around sharing only the good stuff, we wouldn’t be able to grow our compassion. When we conceal the not so pretty parts from one other, then everyone is left wondering, how come his life works so well? How come her marriage/work/family/community is so great? What’s wrong with me? These empty, “Hi, how are you? Fine how are you,” exchanges that we all have throughout our lives can really take a toll.

If we don’t reveal the hidden ache in our hearts – the ache of being human – we rob ourselves of the real-life juicy stuff; the depth that keeps us connected to one another. This is why I share my duality. If I’m experiencing it, I trust others are as well. Maybe hearing about my struggle will help melt yours a bit.

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