Sending out an email to the neighborhood watch list for our missing cat, I hoped someone would help us find Sniper soon. Typically this sit-by-the-corner-of-the-house-waiting-for-someone-to-open-the-door critter didn’t stray far from home. Most of the time she’d sit on the steps waiting for the birds to swoop into our backyard for a game of chase then she’d hop to the kitchen windowsill waiting to be let in. This time I’ll admit I was getting concerned. Three days missing was a rare event, especially as the temperature was dropping. Surely someone in the neighborhood would spot her.
It didn’t take long for a mom pushing a double stroller to flag me down as my son and I were pulling out of our driveway. “Could that be your cat?” she sounded concerned as she pointed up into a tree in a neighbor’s yard. “We saw her when we went for a walk today. We’ve tried everything to get her to come down. I even called the fire department to see if they would help.”
Standing beneath the tree was a little boy about six years old trying to coax the cat down with a can of tuna. “We’ve been so worried about her.”
As my college student and I assessed the situation, we started strategizing our options for rescue. Putting a ladder by the tree, a neighbor came out to see what was happening. “Oh, the cat is yours?” You know she’s be up there for three days. I let my dog out and he started barking. Guess it scared her. All I know is that I wasn’t going to climb up there to get her,” and with that he went back inside.
I chose not to say anything because, like most of us, I’m sure he is a busy man. Rescuing a cat probably wasn’t even on his radar screen.
Within minutes my son had the cat in his arms.
But the incident gave me pause to think–We didn’t need a long ladder to get the cat. It took less than three minutes once we knew she was there. And in reality, anyone over 5 foot tall could have climbed on the fence next to the tree to rescue the poor thing. How many of us would have said to ourselves, “not my cat—not my problem?”
As I thought about the interchange, I wondered about this next generation. Are we teaching them to have empathy and compassion? Have we taught them to take responsibility for making this a better place wherever they can? Are we teaching them to put themselves in another person’s shoes and do whatever they can to make a person’s life easier?
If we haven’t, what kind of spouse will they be?
What kind of parent?
I started thinking about my own boys. How would they have handled the situation? Probably like most of us, I’m sure at times they will show compassion and other times not. But as parents, how do we increase the percentage of times they get it right? Research shows that women’s brains are more likely to signal empathy than men’s brains and hints that rather than it being linked to how we are wired, it could actually be a result of how we have been nurtured.
Did I nurture my boys enough? And then a long-gone memory surfaced that made me smile. At least I had been witness to one of my boys getting it right on at least one occasion. It had happened years earlier with my then 16 year old son. He was getting in the car after band practice when he saw a girl walk across the school parking lot. As she walked in front of our car I noticed a tampon fall out of her back pocket. I’ll admit I was a little embarrassed as my son hopped out of the car saying, “Hey, wait up.”
As she turned around to see who was talking to her, sure enough my son picked up the tampon and ran to catch up with the girl. “Here, you might need this,” he said.
As I sat there blushing, my son confidently got back in the car.
“Wow, what made you do that?” I asked.
“Mom, I thought she might need it.”
That’s what compassion looks like!
It’s empathizing with what others might be going through.
It says, I see a problem and I want to make your life better.
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
So how do we teach empathy and compassion?
- Walk the talk. Let your kids see you showing compassion and empathy to others and tell them why you are doing it.
- Show your child empathy. If they have experienced it, they will emulate what has been shown to them.
- Encourage acts of compassion as a family. Work a soup kitchen together, shovel snowy driveways of senior citizens in the neighborhood, gather outgrown clothes and donate them to a local charity, sponsor a child from another country. The opportunities are endless.
- Catch your kids showing empathy to siblings or others and commend them for a compassionate heart.
Dare you to step out of your comfort zone as a parent to model compassion and empathy for your tweens and teens. Let’s make an impact on the next Generation!
“Let Go…and Let God,”