Friday, 21 January 2011

The primary skill in parenting is empathy.

This piece was written as a comment on 'comment is free' @ The Guardian in response to this article :

The comment was moderated and removed. Here it is in full. For what it's worth.

The primary skill in parenting is empathy.

In a Society that is predicated upon Power Relationships where a power disparity exists between those in the relationship, empathy is seen as a weakness. The ability to manipulate the weaker party is seen as a strength.

Empathy for the infant in front of you will depend to some degree upon whether or not you have empathy for yourself as an infant.

That's all the more dificult if one has no recall of what it was like to be an infant, if one has no experience of other peoples infants.

It's even more difficult if those 'forgotten' times were in any way adverse.

On top of that, if you have to work full-time plus overtime, whether you are a single parent or a couple, if your income is relatively small, if you are out of work and depressed, if you feel that society is judging you for being out of work, for being relatively poor, if you have Social Services who threaten you rather than seek to support you, if your housing is sub-standard, if you live with a partner who has issues, if you have issues, it's really hard.

And there are many, many people in this state, mostly through no fault of their own.

Poverty is absolutley the result of the concentration of vast wealth in the hands of the few. The rich always blame the poor for being poor. The colonialists always painted the coloinised as sub-human. They still do.

The emergence of violence, of hierarchy, of abuse in any society is absolutely linked to the levels of empathy that permeate that society, which in itself is directly linked to the disruption or support of the natural child-mother bonding processes that our biology determines as neccessary. Disruption increases the likelyhood of dysfunction, support increases the likelyhood of well being.

The ACE study shows the clear evidence based links between adverse childhood experiences and later risk behaviour, ill health, addiction and psychological distress.

I was a stressed out parent some 22 years ago, and found myself bullying my children. One day I decided that this had to stop. I sought help, and found it, in the form of a weekly group hosted by a facillitator. It was called parent link.

The first thing I learned was that if I had had ACE's as a child, then it was likely that I would repeat the same patterns, the same controlling behaviours, because that was the unconscious information with which I was operating, in spite of my best intentions, in lieu of accurate information and support.

The next thing I learned helped me to understand that children know what they feel, even infants, and that it requires empathy and some patience to be a healthy carer, to learn how to meet their needs, to read their moods and that it is incredibly frustrating for them when they are unable to communicate and be understood, which is what they are expecting - to be felt, and understood.

I learned how to interupt my own patterns, to notice when I was becoming irriated and to stop, to relax, and check with the reality of my children's present. I learned that my past had nothing to do with their present. I also learned that some schedules are less important than my childrens well-being and that I had to take things at their pace, and that if I wished to be somewhere by a certain time I had to factor in extra time in the preparations, to avoid stressing them out to meet my needs.

These very simple learnings, supported by the group work, over 13 weks, revolutionised my parenting experience, made life for my children so much better. They heped me end the power relationship dynamic and enter into an empathic relationship.

It also helped me to start the work of dealing with my own past experiences and start to recover.

Better than handbooks is genuine support offered by people who have proven experience, parenting requires time, and the time spent is much more important than the time spent working to pay off a mortgage, to urge forwards a career, to earn enough to have a flatscreen TV the size of a cinema screen or whatever is being touted by the marketers and bankers as the next big thing.

What really concerned me at the time was that there was not one single Government supported programme like the one I was so lucky to have found. Nothing. Zilch.

The question that arose was this : given that this information that was making such a huge impact on my life, on the lives of my children, was known, proven to be effective, had been around for some 20 years why was there nothing like this being offered through any Goverment or Social Services Programme?

In the end, my answer is this - they don't want to support empathic parenting because it runs counter to their embedded Power Realtionships. Maybe they just can't see it.

Perhaps it is simply reflexive, perhaps it's psychological myopia, and then again perhaps not. 

Either way it matters greatly to those who are stressed out as parents, because that simple, effective an inexpensive support would make such a huge difference to their lives and the lives of their children.

And for that reason it must matter to anyone concerned with the welfare of Society as a whole.

(Tony Blairs 'evidence' today at the Chilcott Iraq Inquiry is pertinent in that it demonstrates the love of power, the willingness to cause harm and to rationalise that har. In  a Society predicated on Power Relationships.....)
In the 20 years or so since then I have researched this area and have found nothing at all to counter this answer.

This research paper from 1975 makes this clear.

If this article makes sense to you, if you feel it, then please share it.

Kindest regards


Do what you love, it's Your Gift to Universe

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