Parents hurting other parents: the absence of empathy
When a friend tells you they’re struggling with an issue, when is it appropriate to tell them their situation is only going to get worse? Probably never. That’s why, as a therapist and a mother of two young children, the following common scenario boggles my mind: a younger parent expresses their frustration over the behavior of their young child to a parent of a teenage or grown child. The response of that older parent is something like this: “Just wait until they’re a teenager, it will get worse.”
Raising children, of any age, can be challenging. In fact, there are few more humbling, frustrating experiences*. All parents know this about being a parent. That is why it is important for people in all stages of parenthood to use empathy with other parents. Trying to understand what a younger parent is feeling is helpful. Listening is helpful. Telling another person that the worse is yet to come is not helpful, it’s discouraging.
Perhaps the “Just wait…it’ll get worse” feedback is common because parents have been saying it for generations and it has become habit. If that’s the case, it’s time for the latest wave of newer parents to break that habit.
Perhaps “Just wait…it’ll get worse” comes from the belief that in order to help someone we have to solve their problems. And since parenting a child is more about endurance than problem solving, maybe the more experienced parents feel there is no help to give. That’s not true.
Being with another person when they’re distressed… letting them know that they’re not crazy…letting them know they’re doing the best they can…these are things that can be helpful. They may take a bit more effort than a trite saying we’ve passed down through generations, but if your goal is to encourage rather than discourage, it’s worth it.
*Raising children is also rewarding.