Last night, I sat straight up in my bed, startled by the sound of terrified cries. I jumped up, heart pounding, and flew toward my children’s rooms. Before I could make it to the stairs, I looked over to see my daughter half asleep, leading my son down the stairs. Her normally sparkly brown eyes were heavy with sleep, but her feet were light, knowing precisely where to go. Behind her, she dragged my son like an old, familiar blanket, and he, with a tear-stained face, willingly followed.
I took a deep breath. They were safe; it was only a nightmare. Relieved, I smiled a little as I watched my daughter pull him along; she looked like Tinker Bell dragging a lost boy out of Neverland. She didn’t yell. She didn’t tell him to go back to sleep or stop being a baby. Instead, she compassionately held his chubby hand (which she NEVER does) and used a sprinkle of fairy dust to lead him through a maze of fear and darkness.
It was my daughter’s “compassion in Neverland” that reminded me how easy it is to love our children but how difficult it can sometimes be to show compassion in motherhood. Some days, there are so many boo-boo’s and disagreements and so much disarray that we get “compassion fatigued.”
I didn’t make up the phrase, but it’s a great one, right? I heard religion expert Karen Armstrong use it and thought it perfectly described what it’s like to be a mom with burnout. Are there days when you just want to tell your kids to dust the boo-boo off themselves, even though you see a pinprick of blood on their knee and a puddle of tears behind their eyes? Sure, they’ll be okay, but sometimes they need the warmth of arms around them and someone to say, “Yeah, I get it. You scraped your knee and it hurts. It’s not fair and you want to cry. I’m here for you.”
So, how do we tap into this “compassion in Neverland”? I believe compassion is not only the key to staying out of mommy burnout but also the answer to many of our worries and fears. Compassion has the potential to transform the world: it’s the repellant of bullies, the enemy of discrimination, the answer to world hunger, the strength in hard times, and the promise of peace. Compassion is mighty – and moms have the ability to harness and create a more compassionate future for our children. A compassion revolution starts with one mom and one child.
Compassion is difficult though; it requires us to reach down deep, listen, and stop shaming ourselves and each other. Compassion demands that we stop reacting and start breathing more. Compassion is hard work, but that’s okay. Some days I get it right; some days I don’t, but that’s the beauty of compassion. Here are a few more things I’m learning about compassion:
We need self-compassion: Let’s be honest, mom’s are the worst at self-compassion. We judge ourselves for saying the wrong things, doing the wrong things, and never, ever being enough. Self-compassion is about patting yourself on the back when goals are achieved. It’s about knowing you are not perfect, but you are still brave, smart, thoughtful, and all those other traits your children see in you. Self-compassion is about slowing down, eating a few more vegetables, moving a little more, and worrying a little less. It’s about listening to yourself. It’s about learning to fly, even if you never even realized you have wings.
We need compassion towards others: I’ve realized how easy it is to shame people. We shame stay-at-home moms, working moms, single moms, childless women, moms who take up too much space and moms who take up too little space. We know that it’s tough being a mom, so why compare and judge? Why not strengthen and encourage? What if we stopped seeing the world in black and white and realized there’s a whole rainbow of glittering colors out there? When I find myself judging someone, I know who it starts with – me. I find that when I take a moment to check in, the judgment has less to do with them and more to do with my own insecurities.
Our children need compassion: Compassion towards children seems easy enough. I can’t tell you how many nights I’ve watched my children sleeping and realized that I’m absolutely in love with them. Then on the really tough days when I’m compassion fatigued, the fire of resentment burns deep down and I don’t have one ounce of compassion to give. But that’s exactly why we need to slow down and find “compassion in Neverland.”
Here’s the thing about compassion, our kids notice. My son once told me that when teachers yell at him, he goes into the bathroom and cries. This confession shattered my heart. I couldn’t imagine this usually joyful boy secretly crying in the bathroom. I was devastated, but in some ways, I understood why teachers yell at him. Along with joy, he overflows with energy and activity. He once described it, “My brain wants to move all the time and my body wants to follow it.” Let’s just say, teachers aren’t the only ones guilty of yelling.
But what this confession taught me was that even the toughest little boys in Neverland aren’t immune to yelling, impatience, sarcasm, or shame. It doesn’t roll off their backs as easily as I once believed; instead, it steals a little piece of their shining spirit and forms a hard callous over their hearts. If there’s one thing that my son has showed me, it’s that yelling may feel cathartic in the moment, but compassion works magic in the long run.
I’ve found that after I’ve set boundaries, I take a breath, get on their level, and whisper what I wanted to yell. I didn’t think of that parenting strategy either, but it works almost every single time.
The best part of our family’s compassion revolution is that my children trust me more. They’re less afraid and more forgiving of themselves and each other. And when I mess up, they return the favor tenfold. Tinker Bell and The Lost Boy are proving to me again and again that there’s always room for compassion, even in the chaos of our very own Neverland.
QUESTION: Are you modeling compassion towards yourself and others for your children?
CHALLENGE: Choose one area where you want to be more compassionate. Make a plan about what you can do to respond more compassionately and get started!
Image provided by mfonsecaphotography.com with graphics by Julie Finlayson.
Editors: Rosie Liljenquist/Rachel Nielson.