Picture that you are a mom of three and you have limited resources. You somehow wrangled your three year old into a warm and loving preschool as a scholarship student. Then, your car stops working. You can't get to your job and you have no money to fix it. After a few days, you are fired. Also, you can't get your kid to school anymore.
Your daughter asks every night if she is going to see her teacher the next day. She keeps asking about her friends. She is going to miss the Halloween party.
You were so happy that all you had to do was drive her to school and not worry about the finances of it. And now you can't even do that! What do you say to your child each night when she asks about school the next day? What do you tell her, when you are also terrified about getting food on the table and making rent?
If you think you'd never be in this situation, that's great for you. You may be right. But what if you were? What if you weren't born the person you are, but another person, in another set of circumstances, and this did happen? How would you feel? You would likely feel horrible, guilty, and sad. You might feel angry at the world or at yourself. You might feel hopeless or helpless.
And how would the child feel? She would probably feel sad, angry, and confused. She might stop trusting people and she might even think she did something wrong to be kicked out of preschool.
This situation is not hypothetical. It has happened to a schoolmate of Levi, my youngest. The child is pictured above. This story made me very sad, since all my kids loved preschool. Imagine if I had to withdraw them because I couldn't get them there?
Parents frequently ask how to cultivate empathy in their kids, and that link has some tips. But here's the secret: you can't just teach your child to be empathic toward people that are JUST LIKE YOUR CHILD. That's not real empathy. Real empathy is when you can understand anyone's perspective, anyone in the world. It's less of "What did your sister feel when you took her toy?" and more of "What does a child who doesn't have enough food at home feel when he sees other kids throw out their lunches because they had the wrong flavor of yogurt?"
Gratitude for what you have is essential to happiness. But how can you be grateful for what you have when you don't genuinely understand that others have less? And if you can truly understand what it would feel like to feel pain, it's almost impossible not to want to help. Children are innately altruistic, but society often focuses their attention on only themselves, and their own immediate material desires.
If you would like a real-world empathy exercise, click on my GoFundMe link and read the story with your child, aged four and up. I bet you anything that your child will want to donate a dollar to this little girl's mom to buy a new (used) car so she can job hunt and get her kid to school. If your child is old enough, this dollar can come out of your child's allowance for an even greater self-esteem boost. Children love to be empathic, but don't sabotage their efforts by trying to protect them from knowing about people in difficult situations. Empathy is more than sharing your truck with your friend on a playdate.
If money is tight for you, please share the link with anyone else who might donate a dollar. I will update this post if and when we meet our funding goal.
Till we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Says, Look At That Little Face.