There is a saying of “putting yourself in someone else’s shoes.” It refers to imagining what it what it would be like to be that person, to have their experiences. Empathy.
I think of these metaphorical shoes often, especially as an adoptive parent. My kids wear their “shoes” everyday. Sometimes they’ve appeared tattered—unrecognizable for the many miles of years and emotions that they have traveled and endured, the soles cracked and dirty, more holes than covering, the shoes tight and pinched. More often though the shoes appear to be mending—patched with new colored fabric and laces, the soles somehow less broken with plenty of room for growth.
My kids’ shoes remain attached and uniquely theirs. Although I can never put my self in my kids’ “shoes,” as much as the mother I am wishes to, I continue to try. I encourage parents I work with to do the same.
Parents are responsible for being aware of the state of their children’s shoes and how they fare in their individual journeys of loss and growth. It is their job to support their children as they examine how they feel and why, and to be open to understanding. Parents need to actively listen to what their children share and, just as importantly, what they don’t.
Empathy and compassion are not necessarily built-in states of feeling. They have to be developed and honed, consciously attended to, especially when a child melts down or acts out. Empathy and compassion must be present when a child grieves over what they have lost, even if they can’t verbalize what they feel or have no conscious memory. Their soul remembers and their shoes often require attention.
Parents: How often do you think of your child’s “shoes?” What state are they in? What are you doing to help your child mend them?