A friend asked me whether, in the context of his adult children, I thought that compassionate ‘being with’ was contradicted by acting to make things better or right for them.
I think it is important to understand what is behind any such action.
I remember as a young mother becoming aware of how often a caregiver will gather a distressed child to them and say ‘don’t cry’. It seemed to me that at some levels this ministered more to their own distress than the child’s. I tried, therefore, to cultivate an ability to transmit a message more along the lines ‘ I am here with you, I acknowledge your pain; if you need to deal with that pain by crying, I will provide the safe space in which you can do so’.
I wonder whether an important element of compassion is the ability to put aside our own response (pain or fear) so as to allow space for that of the other?
Therefore, if an action is driven by the need to alleviate our own distress, it is not truly fuelled by compassion.
As our children get older, their explorations take them further from us, the risks they take and the pains they experience become more complex. As parents, we increasingly have to learn how to let them go, to allow and enable them manage their own lives and experiences and to learn from these.
Therefore, when we see them in pain or difficulty, whilst our impulse may be to wade in an ‘make it right’, this has to be balanced against their need to develop confidence in their own resilience and capability.
Sometimes the hardest thing to do is simply to let them know ‘I am here, I witness your pain or difficulty, I am confident that you can deal with this yourself, but will support you if you need me.’ It is important that our actions, however well intentioned, do not simply reinforce a pattern of neediness and dependency.
I truly believe that the greatest joy for a parent is to see their child fly strong and free!