Using Valentine’s Day to Promote Social and Emotional Growth

Exploring Empathy at Valentine’s Day

Nobody is entirely sure who the real St. Valentine was – we can say with certainty that he lived in Rome at a time that’s a few centuries shy of being two millennia ago. With an existence that’s now so long ago and far away, it’s no wonder that the true story of St. Valentine has gotten lost in the shuffle somewhere. Whatever the origins of our modern love-centric Valentine’s Day are, the holiday brings about the opportunity for a mid-winter outpouring of love, friendship and appreciation toward those around us. While the early winter holiday season is a time for sharing and caring, Valentine’s Day allows us to emerge from the doldrums of winter ready to consider others in a new light: looking upon those around us with empathy and offering them support – or at the very least, learning to do so.  Read the rest of this entry »

In Appreciation: 5 Books in the Area of Mindfulness & Empathy

Reflections of a Year in Reading

Reading up on mindfulness and empathy is a powerful way to understand and reflect on our own mindfulness practice and our how to work within our current divisive paradigms.

As those who know me well can attest, I love to read. Like the house could be burning down but please just let me finish this chapter first love to read. With 2016 at a close and much confusion and uncertainty in the current morass, I have been reflecting on some of the best books I read last year on the practice of mindfulness and empathy, especially those that I am still pulling lessons from now to help me in my daily practice and daily existence.

Below are five of my favorite books that I read in 2016 on the areas of mindfulness and empathy.

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Exploring Empathy at Valentine’s Day

In Appreciation: Reading as a Tool Towards Empathy

This is Your Brain on Books

Summer reading is a wonderful chance to engage your children with a love of reading, and recent research suggests that reading fiction is also powerful tool for strengthening our empathy muscles.

Summer is one of my favorite seasons, but not just for beaches and iced coffees, though those are both really good reasons. With summer comes one of my favorite pastimes—summer reading. Okay, to be fair, I love fall, winter, and spring reading too, but now that my oldest daughter is learning to read herself, summer reading has taken on a new meaning as we take part in our local library’s summer reading challenge, with prizes of more books for reading books, which is sort of my idea of the perfect circle.

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In Appreciation: An Exercise in Perspective Taking

An Exercise in Perspective Taking

I remember a few years ago, seeing a dad at the library whose two kids were pretty out of control. Within minutes of entering the kid’s section, they had their shoes and socks kicked off even though he repeatedly told them not to. As he collected their discarded items off the carpet, he looked beaten down in that way that only an overwhelmed parent can.

I hate to admit this now, but I totally had a moment of righteous judgement about his parenting. I’ve thought of this moment many times since, not because it still makes me feel smug, but because experience has taught me, often and in public, how any parent can get overwhelmed by even the usually best-behaved children.

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The Good Life: The Judgement (Re)call

The Good Life: A Year of Thoughtful Seasons by Sarah Mattison Buhl

Winter is the Cruelest Season

A friend recently told me that March is “Non-judgement Month.” She went on to explain that a colleague was having a rough time last March and declared the entire month judgement-free.

It started me thinking about judgement, and while I certainly support non-judgement as I understand it, I recognize that as humans we make judgements every day: “The roads look slippery, so I will go home early.” “ You look great in black.” “The kids have had a tiring week. Rollerskating Friday night is too much.”  – These are all judgement statements, but they aren’t objectionable (with the exception of not rollerskating). So what is it about judgement that makes us cringe? Read the rest of this entry »

Hindsight Parenting: What is the Antidote to Meanness?

Mean Girls, At Age 3

To teach my daughter empathy, the ability to anticipate and understand the feelings of others, would ensure, I am certain, that my daughter, our daughters, would be able to build each other up—not tear each other down, would be able to support with the strength of positivity…

“Go home, Ila!” Those three words, said by a three year old no less to my sweet-natured, well behaved, lovely, and special daughter (all right, all right I may be a tad biased…) made me squeeze the life out of my steering wheel from rage as it was relayed to me by that beautiful girl of mine on the way home from a grocery store visit.

I have heard the horror stories and the numerous, in fact incessant, warning from moms of daughters about the epidemic of mean girls and how it would affect someone as passive and innocent as Ila. I have been told to get her ready for it; to ensure that she has developed a strong and battle proof sense of self so that when she is attacked (which is only a matter of time according to the moms in the trenches) it won’t affect her as deeply as it could. I have been told to empower her with the right to stand up for herself; teach her I statements that set clear boundaries. For instance, “I don’t like what you are saying to me!” Or, “I want you to leave me alone.” Or, “I will not be treated this way!” I have been told that building a solid foundation of love and open communication would make it so that my daughter would feel safe divulging hurtful information to us.

And so we have done all that. Hindsight has urged me to take the advice of these mothers-in-the-know and equip Ila with all that is necessary for her to combat this culture of bullying. And me, with my memories of the horrific bullying that my older son experienced…for years…without my knowledge…as well as my own esteem issues and lack of connection with parents who did nothing to help me feel like my feelings were safe with them, made it so that I fiercely vowed to raise a daughter who was prepared beyond a shadow of a doubt for anything that might make her feel less than.

But dear readers, I must confess that I thought I had more time. I thought that I had years to mold and shape this wonderful girl into someone who stood on sturdy metaphorical legs, years to be sure that she and her out of this world essence would stay that way. I thought I had more time.  Read the rest of this entry »

Can Teen Boys Feel Empathy?

And Then They Grow Up….

(Photo credit: Logan Fisher)

Something happened this week in my home.  Something so rare I am afraid I may make other parents of teen boys jealous.  But then again, telling you about this rarity make give some of those same parents some hope for the future.  What I have to tell you might shake the teenage world as we know it.  It is so earth shattering, earth shaking, earth quaking that what we know about the adolescent boy might forever be changed by the news I am about to share in this one column.  Are you ready?  I’ll try to say it quietly so as not to startle those understandably skittish parents of teen boys.   Come closer so you can hear me.

My sixteen year old spent the entire week being…dare I say it???  Being….oh I can’t believe what I am about to write!  Being…human.  Human?  Hmmmm.  That might not be the correct word.  Let’s try another one…kind?  Or how about…thoughtful?   Of course there is always….Pleasant.  Heck why don’t I put them all together.   Ok.  Let’s try this again.  My sixteen year old spent the ENTIRE week being humanly kind and pleasantly thoughtful.  Yes.  That’s right.  I said ENTIRE, and I meant ENTIRE.  He didn’t have one moment of his typical hibernating-bear-meets-man-eating-lion-meets-the-king-of-the-world-centers-around-me behavior.  Not. One. Moment.

What could have caused this scarce occasion?  It could be that in two months, Aidan turns 17 and is turning a corner on adolescent selfishness.  It could be that he is trying to prove that he is responsible with the impending license looming, but to be honest with you, I am not sure either of those are the reasons.  I think the real reason is much more profound which is why the revelation is to me so earth shaking, so moving.

I think, in fact I am pretty sure, this new found sweetness has to do with empathy.  Did you hear the collective gasps?  Empathy?  In a teen?  NO WAY!  But, dear readers, I am certain that this is true.  Let me explain. Lately I have been feeling low.  I mean REALLY low.  I know what you are thinking.   All moms have ups and downs…but this particular low has been bottom dwelling.

Many changes have taken place in this house during the last year–most out of my control–and the pile has begun to weigh me down sitting on my chest like one of those barbells that super lifters lift.  You know the ones I am talking about.  The ones with the weights on each end that look like an 18 wheeler’s tires.  I have done my best to try and keep my chin up and to keep a smile on my face for the sake of my family.  (Don’t all moms do that?)  But if truth be told, it has been very difficult to hide the misery that I am wallowing in lately.  Could Aidan’s personality shift be due to the fact that he has sensed that his mom needs some positive energy?  Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

Listen to this list and YOU decide!

  1. On Saturday, my husband suggested a jaunt down our local highway to visit my very favorite store (a store that has a particular December holiday in its name.)  He thought that maybe it’d cheer me up.  As we were packing the baby bag, Aidan said, “Where you going mom?”  I said, “Shopping in Colonie.  Nothing you’d be interested in.”  To my surprise he answered, “Actually, I’d love to come.  Would you mind?”  Mind?  Would I mind?  Since when did that matter?  I stood speechless. He took the toy from my hand and finished packing his little sister’s bag.  On the way down the highway and on the way home, he sang happily to the Sesame Street CD that played repetitively never once asking to listen to his own music.  He had full-sentence-conversations with us at lunch and happily filled the cart with knick-knacks for an hour and a half at my favorite store.
  2. All week when I said, “Do you have homework?”  Instead of the usual eye roll and heavy sigh.  I’d get an enthusiastic, “Oh yeah!  I should probably do that now.  Thanks for the reminder mom!”
  3. Every Tuesday I typically take the baby to visit my parents.  This week, Aidan asked to go with us.  He ASKED to go.  On the way home he told me how much he enjoyed going and suggested that he come every week.  That evening, he genially carved pumpkins with his baby sister and step father.  That moment is worthy of a column in itself.  One I promise to write.  You can see a few pictures of our fun above.  It was just special a special moment.  Purely special.  One that was full of happiness.  One that lifted me.
  4. Yesterday, after receiving bad news in the mail, I was particularly teary, unable to hide the anguish that was mounting.  Standing at the microwave watching the vegetables steam, tears streaming down my face, I felt two arms wrap around my shoulders from behind.  “I love you mom.”  Aidan whispered quickly.  He hugged me firmly and walked away, and just like that the tears were gone.
  5. Today, before leaving to spend the weekend with his dad, I took Aidan for a quick parallel parking lesson.  We talked about his day.  He took my pointers and used them.  He tried over and over to perfect this tough driving maneuver, never once losing his temper or complaining.  Getting out of the car he thanked me for taking him and once again hugged me sweetly.  “I love you mom.”

I was mute, the breath taken away from me quickly by the gesture of warmth and encouragement.  I could only smile a very real smile and nod vigorously as he got in the car to leave.  However had my voice not disappeared during that tender moment, the words I would have spoken would have been simple and to the point.  I would have answered quietly, “I know you love me Aidan.  I know.”


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Logan Fisher

Logan has lived in Glens Falls, NY all her life. By day, she is an educator with 20 years experience, a mom to Aidan and Gannan, her two teenage boys, a new mommy to a beautiful daughter, Ila, and wife to the love of her life, Jeffrey. By night, weekends and any spare time she can find, Logan writes. She loves memoir and also adores writing essays about the challenges of parenthood. This year she started a parenting blog called A Muddled Mother, an honest place where mothers aren’t afraid to speak of the complications and difficulties that we all inevitably experience. Logan has been published in various children’s and parenting magazines including Today’s Motherhood, Eye on Education, Faces, and Appleseed.

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