Tag Archives: empathy

honesty and social media

One Friday morning a couple of weeks ago – the first day of half term to be precise – my sons decided to do some baking. My eight-year-old has always enjoyed making cakes and buns but it’s become a real passion of his recently. On this occasion his younger brothers (aged six and just-about-three) were keen to help and I was told to “Sit down, Mummy or just take some photos of us or something.” So I mostly just watched them.

pretty buns... but what's the other side of the story?

pretty buns… but what’s the other side of the story?

It was so sweet – the three of them were totally dedicated to the task and worked together brilliantly. The older two read recipes together and divided up tasks. They helped their little brother pour ingredients and stir the mixture. They all had far too much (messy) fun with the electric mixer and even came up with a solution when they realised they’d added butter straight from the fridge (instead of ‘softened butter’)… which involved the six year old sitting in front of a heater for ten minutes cradling the bowl of cake mixture in his hands! An hour and a half later they had made chocolate biscuits and buns and were (justly) very pleased with themselves. I photographed the whole thing and shared the photos on my personal Facebook page. I felt so happy and proud of them.

Ten minutes later though, I felt a sudden need to be more honest with my Facebook friends… because although those pictures of sibling harmony were absolutely genuine, they only told one part of the story. In fact, the reason I had been so particularly happy to see my boys working together and enjoying each other’s company so much is because the previous day my older two had had the most horrible, upsetting argument. It was probably the worst argument they’d ever had and it had taken me and their dad ages to calm them down and help them through it. I’d gone to bed feeling like a terrible parent and woken up as member of the Walton family! No wonder I’d wanted to share those gorgeous, harmonious photos!

Perhaps it was the recent furore over the ‘Motherhood Challenge’ playing on my mind (with the idea that posting happy photos can have a negative impact on others*), but suddenly, only sharing ‘part of the story’ didn’t feel quite right. So I went back to Facebook and wrote about the argument the previous day too, along with my reasons for sharing that. I’m not normally that open on Facebook so I felt quite exposed (even though I only have a hundred-odd friends which is by FB standards a mere handful!). But I did it anyway because it suddenly felt like something I needed to do.

You see, as much as I enjoy Facebook, I’m aware of its dark side too. Personally, I can find it really draining. And although I do genuinely enjoy the majority of what my friends post, there are times when it all feels too much. A bit overwhelming. It can tap into a side of me I don’t really like so that where in ‘real life’ I would feel happy for a friend’s success, ‘social media me’ is envious and dissatisfied. On a bad day this ‘me’ sees the dream jobs, the pictures of angelic, perfectly behaved kids, the fabulous holidays etc. and compares my life unfavourably to that.

I know, I KNOW this is ridiculous because I have a lovely life with very little to feel remotely dissatisfied about. I’m also well aware FB provides only glimpses into people lives (those perfect kids probably smeared ice cream all over the sofa three seconds after that photo was taken) and besides which, I project just the same images of an ideal life into others FB feeds. I guess that was why I felt the need to set the record straight a bit on this occasion. I don’t have perfect, Disney-fairytale kids!

That honest post got twice as many likes and (lovely) comments as my post with the harmonious sibling pictures and I don’t think that was a fluke. It’s lovely to see each other’s happy times but without sharing some of the harder moments too, I think we’re missing something. The roundness of human experience, perhaps. And the real part of friendship – the part that makes us see each other as fellow human beings, all on this crazy journey together. Isn’t everything easier when we’re not alone?

How much do you share on social media?

***

*for the record, I had nothing against the motherhood challenge. I was tagged but didn’t post any photos, more due to apathy than anything else. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with posting happy photos. I certainly don’t think parents are smug just for sharing moments like these. I do think there’s a question about the impact of what we share on social media but it’s much MUCH bigger than that one challenge, it’s to do with how we adapt to knowing so many selective details about so many people on the periphery of our lives. It’s a whole other blog post!

Writing Bubble
And then the fun began...

trying to find the words

As a writer, words are my thing: they’re my tool, my voice and often my comfort. Writing helps me make sense of the world, to interpret everything that I experience (or imagine) and turn it into something that has meaning – even if only for me.

But right now I can’t find the right words at all. When I heard about the atrocities that took place in Paris last Friday night, like everyone else I knew, I was shaken and appalled. I took to social media where my Twitter and Facebook feeds were lit up with reactions. I read, digested and inwardly responded, but did I manage to put any of those responses down? No.

eiffel towerAs the day continued and I saw and heard reports of the Islamophobia and anti-refugee sentiment the attacks sparked, I felt even more sadness and wanted to express so much but the words tangled themselves up and that was that.

And then I wanted to blog about it, but that wasn’t happening either. So I decided I wouldn’t – I’d just write my weekly #WhatImWriting post on a totally different subject. But I’ve tried that and it felt wrong too. I’ve had to ignore far too many elephants in rooms over the past few years and this particular one was getting fidgety and wouldn’t be brushed aside. You feel something: express it! it whispered in my ear.

I’m trying, elephant, I’m trying!

But it’s still not happening. I think it’s because there’s too much to say and it’s underlaid with so much emotion. And there are too many discussions and comments circling in my head.

So I’m just going to express what I feel most – beyond the revulsion and sadness that this could happen at all, and the compassion for all affected by it – which is that we cannot let them win. And any feelings of hate and mistrust and anger that we direct towards anyone other than the terrorists who took this vile action (and those who commit similar acts of barbarism the world over*), is a step in the wrong direction: they want to spread fear and hate.

So I’m going to focus on the outpouring of empathy across the the media, on my Facebook feed that turned red white and blue, on the cities around the world that lit up with the colours of the French flag. I’m going to remember the ‘Liberté, égalité, fraternité’ that France has as its motto and the many billions of people across the globe who stand by that. For, in the words of Martin Luther King Jr. :

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Writing Bubble

*… because I know it’s not only Paris that deserves our empathy and support, but that’s whole other blog post.

empathy

One of my favourite aspects of parenting (alongside hearing my kids learn to talk) has been watching their sense of empathy develop. Babies certainly don’t come into the world as natural empaths, given that their initial survival depends on being almost entirely egocentric and letting us know what they need, LOUDLY, without a thought for the needs of anyone else.

horses and their boy

My eldest son displaying ninja, horse-whispering skills.

Soon though, they learn the importance of smiling as a means of interaction (and of getting what they want) and, later, that talking is even better. But empathy probably comes a little way down the track due to their firm belief that the world revolves entirely round them. It was only very recently that my toddler stopped assuming that all and any pictures of babies were pictures of him. “Diddy!” (his name for himself) he would shout with delight pointing wildly at a picture of a blonde haired girl on the front of some nappies, or a brunette boy in a magazine. It didn’t matter that they didn’t look remotely like him – to his mind, all babies were most certainly him.

After a while though, children come to understand that others have feelings and that those feelings matter. This is something I’ve always been really keen to promote with all three of my boys. With our first son we were rather spoilt in this department as he’s a naturally sensitive soul who very early on became aware of – and cared about – the feelings of others (both humans and animals). When he first became a big brother at the age of just turned two, his reaction on meeting his new sibling was to kiss him and give him his favourite toy elephant – it brings a lump to my throat just to think of it! These days (aged seven),when we watch a film as a family and there’s an emotional scene in it I can guarantee that his eyes (alongside my own) will be filled with tears.

My second son learnt a lot from his brother and although these things didn’t come to him quite as easily, he has always been concerned with the welfare of babies. He really can’t bear any sort of mishap to befall them.

Most of the time, I love these qualities in my sons. A few weeks ago though, the three of them got nits (yuck) which necessitated a swift application of that horrible oily shampoo stuff. This should have been a reasonably straightforward (if messy) process but I encountered severe resistance when I (foolishly) let slip that the greasy goop was to kill the nits. “Kill the nits? KILL them?!” said son no. 1 in shock, “You can’t do that, it’s wrong! It’s killing wildlife!” Sigh.

Things got worse when I had to repeat the oily-hair process a week later to ensure that all the lice eggs had been got rid of (otherwise they could all hatch out again – I know, it’s truly lovely). “Lice eggs? You want to kill the nit babies? You can’t kill babies!” Said son no. 2 in horror. I think he imagined his hair full of miniature, cute, smiling baby-bundles. I had to do some powerful persuading in order that round two of the ‘wildlife massacre’ could go ahead.

I’m hoping that the nits are gone for good though as I suspect next time I would have three little people standing up for the rights of their disenfranchised pests, given my youngest is now learning all about empathy too. The other day when his big brother was crying he toddled over to him and started stroking his back, “Alright Doda?” he said repeatedly (Doda being how he pronounces his big brother’s name). My eldest was very touched and it definitley helped dry his tears up. A few days later, sitting in his highchair the toddler heard his big brothers bickering in the next room. When they both started crying he tried to clamber out of his seat saying “I help brubbers!” I had to let him loose and he rushed through to administer cuddles (whereupon another fight nearly broke out as both his brothers wanted to cuddle him first… but let’s gloss over that).

If I can ensure my sons grow up without losing this capacity to care for others then I will have achieved one of my main parenting goals. For my lovely, caring boys to grow into loving, empathic men, well, what more could a mother hope for?

Little Hearts, Big Love
Also linking up with The Prompt which, this week, is ‘presence’ (because of the presence of empathy in my boys – I know, it’s a tenuous link!)
mumturnedmom