If you take it really seriously, parenthood is the most challenging job you’ll ever have. The hours are long and the pay stinks. It requires the most emotional investment and the greatest patience. And no matter how well you do it, there will always be that nagging little voice in your head wondering, “Should I have handled that differently?” But parenthood is also the most rewarding and important role you’ll ever play. And the good news is that we're all in this together...

Saturday, March 9, 2013


I just got back from a “Good Work Conference” on “Developing Responsible, Caring, & Balanced Youth,” where I sat on a panel exploring empathy. What is empathy and how do we foster it in our children? Moderator Richard Weissbourd noted that while one of the standard definitions of empathy is being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, it might not be empathy unless some moral value is attached. For example, salesmen and con men are often quite adept at being able to see things from another’s perspective, but if that only leads to manipulation as opposed to a sense of genuine emotional kinship, it’s not necessarily what we are looking to foster. (He mentioned how kids persuade one another to have sexual activity by knowing the right buttons to push.)

Several good programs generated by schools and outside organizations, including churches, were brought up, but I think empathy has to start at home, beginning with the family dynamic of how we treat one another, reinforcing respect and compassion. But I’ve also found it’s really helpful to share ideas in conversations and open reflections about values, and those opportunities can be hard to come by. One of the panelists mentioned meeting children “where they live,” and I realize one of my best opportunities for chatting about values and human behavior is in front of the tube, sharing a TV show with my kids. I try not to be obnoxious about it, but I do find it’s quite revelatory to ask questions like, “Why do you think she did that? What do you think he’s going to do now? What would you do in that situation?” Most of the time my owned shared reactions tend toward, “Oh, I feel so bad for her…” but my daughter loves to bring up the time I got so exasperated with one TV character I said, “I told you not to go there, you silly bitch.” Maybe not the best role modeling, both in terms of the self-righteous judgment and salty word choice, but we both dissolved in laughter and it totally opened the door to frank reactions thereafter from both of us. Just don’t get me started on any of “The Real Housewives.” 

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