What is an interactive business without empathy? What is a business team without an understanding of the employees’ sentiments? What is an organization serving people’s needs without an actual acknowledgement of their needs? What is a company without an understanding of how their service will actually benefit people and their well being? A business without empathetic traits is a hollow one. Why? Because empathy is a characteristic that most successful businesses inherently require. A business that demonstrates the capacity to see things from the point of view of the consumer, to put themselves in the consumer’s shoes, is a multidimensional business, a business that can get an accurate idea of consumer’s needs. Moreover, an “empathetic business” is already putting themselves in a place for success by just genuinely caring for the consumer in this way.
Empathy has been continuously linked to positive business results. Specifically, such studies correlate empathy with increased sales, manager performance of product development teams, and strengthened performance in a diverse workplace (“What’s Empathy got To Do With It?”). The Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations pinpoints documented research on emotional intelligence and empathy, or lack thereof within businesses.
For example at L’Oreal, sales representatives selected on the basis of certain emotional competencies significantly outsold salespeople selected using the company’s old selection procedure. On an annual basis, salespeople selected on the basis of emotional competence sold $91,370 more than other salespeople did, for a net revenue increase of $2,558,360 (Spencer & Spencer, 1993; Spencer, McClelland, & Kelner, 1997) (“Business Case for Emotional Intelligence”).
After supervisors in a manufacturing plant received training in emotional competencies such as how to listen better and help employees resolve problems on their own, the following outcomes occurred: (1) Lost-time accidents were reduced by 50 percent (2) Formal grievances were reduced from an average of 15 per year to 3 per year (3) The plant exceeded overall productivity goals the 1st year. (Pesuric & Byham, 1996) (“Business Case for Emotional Intelligence”)
The Center for Creative Leadership determined that 75% of careers are derailed for reasons related to emotional competencies, such as the inability to handle interpersonal problems, unsatisfactory team leadership during times of difficult or conflict, or inability to adapt to change or evoke trust (The Center For Creative Leadership). These emotional competencies are related to empathy. For example, handling interpersonal problems requires effective communication and the ability to see a situation from a consumer, employee, or supervisor’s point of view.
Anger or other negative feelings in the workplace dissolves or can be temporarily contained once an individual empathizes with another. Empathy involves compassion and compassion is a gateway to cooperation and good relations in the workplace. Give an exercise of empathy a try at work – attempt to mentally put yourself in others’ shoes – and see the compassion you feel and the response you get. It will likely be positive, personally and professionally.
“Business Case for Emotional Intelligence.” Business Case for Emotional Intelligence.
Web. 14 July 2015.
“Center for Creative Leadership.” Ccl.org. Web. 14 July 2015.
Spencer, L. M. J., McClelland, D. C., & Kelner, S. (1997). Competency assessment
methods: History and state of the art. Boston: Hay/McBer.
“What’s Empathy Got To Do With It?” Empathy and Leadership. Web. 14 July 2015.
“What Researchers Discovered About Emotional and Social Competence.” Emotional Intelligence Training. Web. 14 July 2015.
Get under the covers at 11pm. Wake up at midnight because one of the kids is crying. They’ve finally settled around 12:45. Go back to bed. Wake up at 2am because of anxiety related to paying the bills the next day. Force yourself back to bed again. Wake up, this time for good, at 6am to two crying children and start anew. This is the restless sleep experience of your average young working mother.
A young mother’s work day does not end in the workplace. She arrives home in the evening to her second job – parenting. Dinner needs to be made for the family. Cleaning and housekeeping needs to be completed. Children need to be tended to. When she finally gets to bed, it is either stress, insomnia, or the children waking up that leads her back to wakefulness.
Many of us don’t have to think twice about our broken sleep patterns, or whether or not our sleep habits are affecting our children. Research has found that mothers who work more than 35 hours per work are more likely to experience insufficient sleep compared to mothers who work fewer hours. In addition, children are more likely to experience insufficient sleep when their mothers work between 20 and 40 hours. Also, mothers with unusual work schedules are prone to an increased likelihood of insufficient sleep (Kalil 891). Furthermore, long work hours for mothers likely means broken sleep for the mothers themselves and for their children.
It was also discovered in a 2014 study that it is even more difficult for disadvantaged, lower income mothers, and mothers with no additional adult in the household to help them. They must manage household and childhood responsibilities by themselves and without a financial backbone. Moreover, “more than half of the mothers and children in this sample of urban, lower income families slept less than the amount recommended by health professionals and the broader scientific literature” (Stewart), (Kalil 892). They lack support yet are in a position of high accountability.
How does maternal work even influence children’s’ sleep patterns? Mothers who work long hours lack the time and energy necessary to monitor and enforce children’s sleep. In addition mothers who work unusual shifts, like evenings and nights, are often working when children are going to bed or waking up. Mothers may also experience stress or fatigue, making it particularly difficult to monitor their own sleep schedules as well as their children’s (Perrucci et al., 2007).
For young mothers working long hours, it might be helpful to be openly aware of possible insufficient sleep in themselves and their children. Even if other things are negatively impacting sleep, at least they know work is likely one detrimental factor. When mothers can look at their situation objectively next to other mothers enduring the same experience, they can better honor their feelings, and realize this experience is common and okay.
In addition and perhaps most importantly, young mothers should incorporate relaxation into their lives so that they are better able to balance work and home life, and avoid broken sleep patterns. In order to dodge the stress and fatigue that comes from a long work day, mothers should incorporate meditation into their schedule, both during work and after the work day upon returning home. The goal is to acquire back the time and energy that was taken from them at work, and put it into themselves and their children’s’ sleep schedules and well-beings.
Kalil, Ariel, et al. “Work Hours, Schedules, and Insufficient Sleep Among Mothers and Their Young Children.” Journal of Marriage and Family 76.5 (2014): 891+. Academic OneFile. Web. 4 Apr. 2015.
Perrucci, R., MacDermid, S., King, E., Tang, C., Brimeyer,T., Ramadoss, K. Swanberg, J.(2007). The signicance of shift work: Current status and future directions. Journal Family and Economic Issues, 28,600–617.doi:10.1007/s10834-007-90.
Stewart, J. (2014). Early to bed and earlier to rise:School, maternal employment, and children’ssleep. Review of Economics of the Household, 12,29–50.
What makes one child more empathetic than another? How can you recognize if your child is demonstrating empathy or if he or she is lacking empathy? Why is it a good idea to teach children to be more empathetic?
Author Lauren Christine Phillips describes empathy as “not a trait that all people exhibit, yet a valuable human characteristic that should be nurtured.” One child, whether aware of it or not, may be wired to be more sensitive and feel as if empathy comes naturally to him or her. Another child may benefit from nurturing his or her empathy through a range of opportunities that are presented to him or her. Because “caring” is a vital ingredient to empathy and an action-based behavior that children can practice, teachers often offer children opportunities that teach them precisely how to care for others. If individuals exercise “care” – behave warmly towards others and in ways that deliberately benefit others – they are positively engaging with another person. They are on their way to consciously or unconsciously imagining themselves in another’s shoes and acting accordingly – and in caring ways – to benefit that person (Phillips).
Two ways a teacher or parent may model caring behavior in order to outline empathetic expression is through the use of “pretend-play” and doll-playing. If a teacher is engaging with a child in pretend-play in a pretend kitchen, the teacher can demonstrate the benefits of taking turns washing the dishes. He or she can show the child positive reinforcement such as smiling when the child gives up control to the teacher to wash the dishes, and punishment such as frowning or discontinuing participating in the play when the child refuses to share the props and responsibilities. The child, through this exercise, will likely learn to associate caring for others and prosocial behavior with positive consequences and perhaps even seek alternate ways to engage with and care for others.
In addition, a mother may drop a doll that she is holding and then immediately pick it up, hug and kiss it, and stroke its hair for a minute. This behavior would likely demonstrate to a nearby child that if a doll – or another person – falls, they are potentially hurting and could use care and comfort. Notice this exercise does not require innate empathy or sensitivity – just perception that the doll fell and may be hurt, and the act of “doing something” such as hugging the doll to help it to “feel better” (Phillips).
Nonetheless, consistently engaging in such caring or prosocial behavior can actually bring about empathy within children and other individuals. Moreover, children who become competent at prosocial behaviors and are able to interpret their own sympathetic reactions, are likely to reveal an increase in empathy and altruism. Because children may be too young to be aware of their reactions and report accordingly, the association between empathy and prosocial behavior is somewhat weaker for children than for adults (Eisenberg and Miller).
Helping to evoke empathy in your child not only allows him or her to be selfless and better understand the perspective of others, but it allows him or her to use effective conflict resolution strategies. Dispositional empathy, or the tendency of individuals to imagine and experience the feelings and experiences of others in an affective and/or cognitive way, (Luppicini) was found to have positive associations with regard to conflict. This type of empathy is positively linked to problem solving, and negatively linked to initial conflict engagement among adolescent boys and girls. Dispositional affective empathy was not related to the two more passive strategies in conflict, withdrawal and compliance (Wied et al.). In addition, low empathy predicts higher levels of cyber-bullying perpetration. A child who is highly empathetic is not likely to carry out cyber-bullying acts (Brewer and Kerslake)
There is a window of opportunities for a child to choose empathy over his or her self-interest, no matter what age the child is at. How can you introduce empathy into your child’s life?
Brewer, G., and J. Kerslake. “Cyberbullying, self-esteem, empathy and loneliness” Computers in Human Behavior 48 (2015): 255+. Academic OneFile. Web. 16 June 2015.
Eisenberg, Nancy, and Paul A. Miller. “The relation of empathy to prosocial and related behaviors.” Psychological Bulletin 101 (1987): 91+. Academic OneFile. Web. 16 June 2015.
Luppicini, Rocci. Handbook of Research on Technoself: Identity in a Technological Society. Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference, 2013. Print.
Phillips, Lauren Christine. “Nurturing Empathy.” Art Education 56.4 (2003): 45-50. JSTOR. Web. 16 June 2015.
Wied, Minet De, Susan J.t. Branje, and Wim H.j. Meeus. “Empathy and Conflict Resolution in Friendship Relations among Adolescents.” Aggressive Behavior Aggr. Behav. 33.1 (2006): 48-55. Web.
Empathic Portraits of Modern Moms #4: Single Parenting Homework Time
There’s a woman I know who works in social services and is a single mom to two kids. One child is a teenager, and one child is in late elementary school. The woman’s children are old enough to watch themselves after school, so she fortunately doesn’t have to worry about day care these days. That said, Mom works regular daytime hours and doesn’t get home until dinner time on week nights. When she comes through the door, the kids are anxious to see her, and having raging appetites. She’s tired from a long day at work taking care of other people’s families.
She rushes to make dinner, and decompress while her kids try to tell her a little about their day over the sounds of clanging pots and pans. By this time, it’s probably 6:30pm or 7:00pm. They eat, and then it’s homework time. For her younger child, each night is a treacherous battle against the stack of homework he is sent home with. One to two hours a night is fully dedicated to home work, and that is after the 6 or so hours he already spends at school every day. As soon as dinner is over, it’s essentially school time again, and there is no fun interactive time between mom and the kids. It’s all about home work. Her son squirms, and Mom has to get tough to get him to focus. It typically turns into an uncomfortable evening for everyone involved.
When I was talking this situation over with my friend, she expressed how frustrated she is with her child’s teacher for assigning that volume of homework every night. She really wishes the work load allowed him to have more free time and to just be a child while he still has time left to be one. She also expressed how upsetting it is to have this negative interaction every single night of the school week with her son. After being separated all day long while both of her children are at school and she’s at work, what she wants most is to have recreational time with them. More than anything, she’d love to be able to just run outside and kick around a ball or go for a bike ride or head to the park. Instead, she works on homework with her younger child until his bedtime (9:00pm) and has little to no one-on-one time with her teenager because she has to micromanage the younger child’s schoolwork. Although a possible solution could be to have him try and work on it immediately after coming home from school with his older sibling (and this is usually attempted) most often the progress is slow between an 11 year old and a 15 year old. Mom’s guidance is needed, and tension between all three of them is often the result.
For now, there hasn’t been much progress as a way of solving this problem. There probably won’t be a way to solve it. Parent-teacher meetings have been unproductive. This is just how this teacher and this district operates and feels is best. For my friend, she values quality, positive, recreational time with her children over what is currently happening, but respects the education system enough to continue this process to make sure her child doesn’t fall behind. For now, she’s frustrated. She wants more time with both of her kids. At 9:00pm every night she sends her children to bed, and she sits up alone without really having had a good conversation with either of them. She feels left out. She wants more out of their relationship. She feels stuck. In a couple of years, her youngest will be old enough to self-manage and she plans to home school him and feels this will be beneficial for their family and will help mitigate some of the issues they’ve encountered with the local school system. Because she has to work, and can’t be with her kids in other ways, they have to find alternatives that will work for them. For now, they are trying to make weekends special and less stressful. But it’s still hard.
Empathic Portraits of Modern Moms #3: Large Families / Death of a Partner
By Emily Heizer
For ten years I worked as a photographer, capturing different milestones in people’s lives. Weddings, babies, senior portraits; you name it, I photographed it. A few years ago I received an email from a woman who wanted maternity portraits taken. Her initial email was a little vague, so I pressed gently to find out who else would be present for the shoot so I could prepare. Would there be siblings? A spouse? A boyfriend or girlfriend? A presented example poses for older brothers or sisters and a partner if she had one. Sara’s initial email was more than a little morose for an expectant mother and I very much felt like I was pulling teeth to get the information I needed to prepare for the shoot, but I wasn’t exactly sure what the situation was.
The message I received back was very blunt. Sara’s husband had died suddenly and unexpectedly in his sleep when she was 20 weeks pregnant. She had three other children who would be present for the shoot. That was all. She wanted to preserve this pregnancy but she wasn’t exactly sure how to navigate the whole thing since her husband couldn’t be there.
At first I had no idea what to say. What is it like to lose a spouse? I too had had to cope with life without a partner several years prior, but the circumstances were dissimilar. He hadn’t died. He just ceased to exist. If you have any sort of friend network at all, you probably know people who have gone through break ups, divorces, separations, or have been parted through death like Sara. Perhaps you’re a military wife. Regardless of the exact circumstances, what is it like going through life without your partner there on a daily basis to pitch in and help? Or even to just celebrate and be present in the good times?
I reflected on the situation, and her tone a bit, asked if there was anything we could do to involve Sara’s husband in the shoot in an indirect way since he couldn’t be in the pictures. Did she want to bring a framed photo of him, or an article of clothing, a memorial item, or maybe do the shoot at a location that would have meant something to him?
This got Sara excited. Her husband had loved to swim. We would shoot at the local pool. The session would be a memorial of sorts. All of the things that he had loved and adored. Including his family.
When I met Sara and her other kids that day, it was clear from the start they were really struggling. One of the kids pulled me aside early in the day and asked if I knew why their daddy wasn’t there. I squatted down to his eye level and said yes, I knew. This mighty preschooler looked me square in the eye and said, “My daddy is dead.” So I looked him right back and I said, “Yep, I know.” He nodded his head at me and hopped in the car. Out of the corner of my eye I watched Sara, heavily pregnant, in turn watching our interaction. How she must cope with so many very small children announcing something so personal in public I have no idea.
We went to the pool. The sun shone. The kids chattered about their dad. Sara was proud of her pregnant belly, but also obviously frustrated. The kids were very little. The oldest wasn’t more than 4 or 5, and here she was, alone and pregnant with her fourth. Towards the end the kids started to get hungry and the melt downs started. No matter what is going on in the world around us, why does it always seem like kids tantrums center around snacks and naps?
The littlest with his tearful big blue eyes began to shriek, “I WANT MY GRAPES!”
Simultaneously of the older kids tapped impatiently on her growing belly, “I can’t do my shoe Mom. My shoe. Mom?”
The third child had wandered out of sight.
Sara’s head frantically whipped around simultaneously throwing fruit into a Tupperware and looking for the misplaced child. “STOP hanging on me, Simon. You need to wait.” While the littlest continued to wail, and I tried to jump in to help, she turned to me and said, “Seriously, where is my husband? WHERE IS HE?” The rage on her face was unmistakable. “I didn’t sign up to do this alone. SERIOUSLY. Where is he?” She slammed the container of grapes on the table and stomped across the play area with her hands across her chest, seeking her little lost wanderer. I help the littlest with his fruit, and Simon with his shoe, and Sara comes back firmly holding the hand of the wanderer. “I didn’t agree to do this alone. I didn’t.” She shakes her head at me, eyes blazing.
I have no idea what to say. I have no idea how to help her. She’s alone. Her words are accurate. No matter how your partner comes to be apart from you, when they are not there to help, they are not there to help, period. Where do your extra set of hands come from? Who gives you emotional support? Who keeps your wandering child from wandering off? Whether you are widowed, divorced, single parenting, or trying to survive a long distance marriage- what do you do when you’re alone? Eventually Sara moved through this rough phase and things got better. But what else could have been done in those moments? I don’t know. Years later and I still think of it often. I wish I knew.
Empathy in Romantic Relationships
By Holly Rosen
A romantic relationship is a fitting harbor for empathy. According to attachment theory, in a relationship, both partners regulate each other’s blood pressure, heart rates, breathing, and the levels of hormones in one another’s blood. When two people join together and become attached, they establish one physiological unit and are no longer separate entities in this regard (Levine and Heller 2010). Moreover, we are constantly in tune with our partner whether we like it or not.
But how skilled are we at being available to our partners, emotionally and otherwise? How much do we put ourselves in our partners’ shoes, consciously or unconsciously? Empathy, or understanding the point of view of one’s partner, is an essential predictor of marital adjustment. Moreover, individuals are more likely to have stable, well-adjusted relationships if they have partners who are capable of expressing empathy (Long 1993), (Bagarozzi and Anderson 1989).
Empathy can be cognitive or affective. When we express affective empathy, we are engaging in an emotional experience of another with an individual. When we express cognitive empathy, we are intellectually taking on the individual’s mental perspective, perhaps in turn drawing conclusions about their mental or emotional states (Cox et al. 2011). In the context of a romantic relationship, perhaps one partner had a strenuous day at work. Even if the other partner was distressed herself, she expresses affective empathy by sharing and acknowledging her husband’s current feelings: exhaustion, frustration with work hours, and a strong desire to relax for the rest of the night. In turn, she acts in ways that cater to his feelings. She repeats back to her husband his feelings of fatigue, cooks him dinner, and encourages him to take the night off. In addition, she expresses cognitive empathy by seeking an understanding of his thoughts and mentality. In observing him that night and just generally knowing him, she infers that he must be in a place of uncertainty and insecurity about his long work hours, and also may be questioning if it is all worth it or if his efforts are appreciated. Consequently, she sincerely thanks her husband for working so hard to support both of them despite the less than ideal hours. In turn, she senses his mental perspective shift from uncertainty to peace of mind and ease, and his emotions shift from frustration to willingness and love. This shift was largely made possible by empathy.
A partner attempting to express empathy whether wired to do so or not, is already putting the couple at an advantage for relationship stability as compared to the amount of stability present before that applied empathy. Mutual empathy, or the act of both partners expressing empathy for one another, is even better and was found to be associated with a stabilization of emotions for both partners. Incidentally, the expression of empathy of positive emotions as a result of the relationship itself is associated with increased day to day stability for couples (Post et al.).
It is true, however, that empathy exists for both positive and negative emotions. The expression of empathy of negative emotions of external events outside of a couple’s relationship may contribute to a consistency of negative feelings, but empathizing in this way may also contribute to intimacy and positive relationship outcomes through an acquired mutual understanding. For example, if one partner is depressed because of factors independent of the relationship, this may lead to increased negative emotions for the couple as a whole, but the non-depressed partner who reaches out to his partner by expressing empathy evokes closeness just by striving to put himself in his partner’s shoes. This closeness not only is a driving force to positive emotions in the relationship, but it provides the depressed partner with an avenue of comfort and support, perhaps leading to positive emotions for him or her individually too (Post et al.).
Getting to a place where you can genuinely empathize with your partner may not always be easy or feel natural, especially if you are experiencing your own obstacles. Yet if you keep in mind the effects – relationship stability, being completely in sync with your partner, and receiving appeciation in return – you may see that demonstrating empathy becomes effortless.
Bagarozzi, Dennis, and Steven Anderson. Personal, marital and family myths: Theoretical formulations and clinical strategies. New York: Norton & Company. 1989.
Cox, Christine L., Lucina Q. Uddin, Adriana Di Martino, F. Xavier Castellanos, Michael P. Milham, and Clare Kelly. “The Balance between Feeling and Knowing: Affective and Cognitive Empathy Are Reflected in the Brain’s Intrinsic Functional Dynamics.” Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. Oxford University Press, n.d. Web. 01 June 2015.
Levine, Amir, and Rachel Heller. Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It
Can Help You Find- and Keep -love. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2011. Print.
Long, E. C. J, Jeffrey Angera, Sara Jacobs Carter, Mindy Nakamato, and Michelle Kalso. Understanding the One You Love: A Longitudinal Assessment of an Empathy Training Program for Couples in Romantic Relationships. Family Relations, Vol. 48, No. 3 (Jul., 1999), pp. 235-242.. National Council on Family Relations. Web.
Long, E. C. J. Maintaining a stable marriage: Perspective taking as a
predictor of a propensity to divorce. Journal of Divorce and Remarriage, 21,
Post, Jessica, Ashley Randall, Shannon Corkery, Basil Chiu, Leslie Bosch, and Emily Butler. “Empathy as a Moderator of Emotional Stability Within Couples.” Mcclelland Institute Children, Youth, and Families. Web.
Emotional Intelligence and Mothering
by Holly Rosen
You get into a disagreement with a friend about how your children should be raised. Voices raise and the entire mood of the room changes. Your first instinct is to run. What right does your friend have to tell you how to raise your kids? There’s no reasoning with her; she’s too stubborn. But the more mindful part of you wants to stay right where you are and work through the issue with her.
You understand your friend feels that way largely because of her own experiences raising her children now. Moreover, she did not understand why you put the children through an expensive camp instead of putting the money into their savings because she would not have done this herself with her children. You realize that this conflict between you two is just a difference of values. You of course want your children to be financially secure in the future, but you also strongly value the fun they have as kids. Your friend values financial security enough to sacrifice some childhood fun. Your friend also also said she had a rough day at work today. Perhaps she is projecting her anger towards you.
Additionally, you noticed that you automatically jumped on the defense when the topic of your children’s upbringing came up. Could you possibly have insecurities about raising your children that have little or nothing to do with your friend? You conclude that there is another angle to seeing this disagreement that allows you to see all of the variables; the core of the issue, and not simply give into a defensive reaction: blaming your friend for being stubborn. You have seen the angle of emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence (EQ or EI) refers to an awareness of your own and other people’s emotions; for example, recognizing an emotion as sad or angry. EI also includes employing emotions to help accomplish tasks like thinking and problem solving; for example, utilizing the emotion of love for your partner to drive conflict resolution. Finally, EI includes navigating through emotions and regulating your own emotions and the emotions of others; for example, lifting the spirits of yourself or that of a loved one (Emotional Intelligence).
Not surprisingly, allowing emotional intelligence into your life – using this skill or simply seeking to develop it – comes with tremendous benefits. In general, EI is linked to better health and more satisfying relationships (“You’re never too old to build emotional intelligence”). It is also linked to a variety of attributes in mothering. In a study that looked at the the use of emotional intelligence (EI) as an explanatory factor in the relationship between attachment and mother-infant bonding and communication, a variety of results were found. Notably, emotional intelligence is a mediating factor for healthy mother-child attachment. Successful controlling and management of emotions (high EI) is directly associated with bonding with one’s infant. (Gunning et al.). Furthermore, mothers who had greater attachment anxiety were less able to comprehend their own emotions or that of their infants (possessing low IE), and this attachment anxiety was found to be associated with higher levels of reported bonding problems between mother and infant (Gunning et al.).
For example, if a child is crying for a bottle, an anxious mother with low EI may misinterpret this behavior as a form of protest or criticism towards the mother herself. This mother may also get distressed at the time and not be able to verbalize how she is feeling in order to better manage her emotions. This difficulty in understanding her infant’s emotions or regulate her own emotions can be especially troubling for any mother. She may notice the bonding problems that occur as a result of miscommunications. Fortunately, emotional intelligence can be developed.
In a study that tested individuals’ abilities to build emotional competence or intelligence, researchers found that the subjects benefitted from “emotion training.” One program within the training taught participants to recognize how specific situations can trigger various emotions within themselves. This way, when these types of situations arise, they can be prepared and mindful of their emotions and properly manage them (“You’re never too old to build emotional intelligence”).
It is also important to attempt to reduce reactivity when facing a difficult person or situation, to allow mindfulness and proactivity. One way to stay centered and allow for this process to transpire when you get upset is to take a deep breath and count slowly to ten. If it turns out that you’re still upset after counting to ten, take a time out if possible, and revisit the issue after you calm down. In addition, to exercise empathy, attempt to put yourself in a struggling individual’s shoes. You may evoke compassion in yourself by starting off a sentence with “It must be difficult to…” (“How to Increase Your Emotional Intelligence ― 6 Essentials”). Allow yourself to undergo the internal experience of another by simply observing their situation, their reactions, their facial expressions and body language. Label what these emotions look like. Does this individual look happy, sad, proud, disheartened?
In identifying your own and others’ emotions, you are not only forming an understanding of yourself and others, you are acknowledging our common human experiences. We all feel. We all react. Why not act compassionately towards one another?
“Emotional Intelligence.” Psychology Today. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 May 2015.
Gunning, Melanie D., et al. “Emotional intelligence, attachment and bonding and communication.” Community Practitioner 84.3 (2011): 27+. Academic OneFile. Web. 19 May 2015.
“How to Increase Your Emotional Intelligence ― 6 Essentials.” Psychology Today. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 May 2015.
“You’re never too old to build emotional intelligence.” The Advocate June 2012: 18+. Academic OneFile. Web. 19 May 2015.
By Emily Heizer
Lydia is 32. She’s the mother of five children. At 20 she met her husband, 21 she was married, and pregnant the same year. Neither she nor her husband were through college yet when they got married, and being young and in love the responsibilities piled on quickly. When their first child was born Lydia’s dad joked some people could have purchased a car for what that baby cost without insurance. She stopped breastfeeding her son on his first birthday and promptly conceived twins. All day long Lydia would be bed bound with her toddler watching TV with the shades drawn. They only had one car, and the pregnancy made her too exhausted to walk very far from the apartment. They couldn’t afford anything. The financial stress was overwhelming. Years passed, things got better, but eventually, more babies arrived. They have a big family. They love it, but it’s draining.
That said, it’s not just financial stress when you’re staying home with young children, is it? As Lydia puts it, if it’s her husband’s job to provide the material things for the family- the roof over their heads, food on the table and clothes on their backs- it’s her job to take care of everything else, including running the house and doing the bulk of the childcare. But it drives her crazy. When we were in high school, Lydia told me she planned on getting married when she was 18 or 19 and she planned on having at least five children. That’s exactly what she did. But how did that translate into a day to day lifestyle?
Babies crying. Diapers being changed. Somebody making a huge mess. Someone else drawing on the walls. Another child upset because they didn’t get one on one time with mom today. That child takes off to the neighbor’s for attention and is “missing” for several minutes, much to Lydia’s overwhelming panic. An idea for an art project to bring everyone together for a few minutes really just results in more cleaning, and more housework for HER. Is it quality time with the kids? Or just more time away from them while she scrubs paint off the tile? Two weeks ago Lydia sent me a photo of her youngest with black permanent marker all over his face. This was the result of her allowing him to work on a puzzle while she worked in the garden for a few minutes. She has no time for herself, ever.
I know my friend loves her big family, and loves her life as a stay at home mom. It’s not anything she’d ever in a million years give up or even change. Not ever. But that doesn’t mean she hasn’t locked herself in the bathroom to call me and catch up on girl talk while her youngest pounds on the other side of the door.
How do you carve out time for yourself while handling this most precious job- raising children?
By Emily Heizer
How do you adequately take care of your kids if you don’t have a partner to help you?
I’m sure you’re doing a great job. But how do you do it? Do you juggle? Are your kids in day care? Do you work full time? Is your family involved? How does that work? How do you prioritize family time as a working mom without a significant other to help share the load?
She has brown hair, always pulled back into a loose ponytail, and glasses that don’t quite sit straight on her face. She stands with her hand on the checkout counter in front of me and gestures in the air with a little bit of frustration as she details her living situation. I don’t know her name, but I see her every week at the grocery store. She’s a single mom; she works long hours. She’s always a little tired and nearing the end of her shift when I see her. She shuffles her weight from one foot to the other and tries not to complain but it’s easy to see how much her feet ache from standing for so long. She’s anxious to go home.
I’ve told her about this introspection into empathy and motherhood that I’m exploring right now, and her faces alternates between lighting up, talking about her son, and darting away and making those hand gestures. She’s on her own and it’s hard. I ask her, what should I write about? What do moms want to talk about?
Apparently a lot of things, but the one that stands out is how little time she is spending with her kid. Her son is in kindergarten, and she’s standing here behind the register at the discount supermarket, ringing out my nearly expired food items for bargain basement prices. I can only imagine what they pay her if this is what they are making on food.
On her own, she wouldn’t be making it. In Oregon, there aren’t sufficient government assisted daycare programs in place for her to get financial help. Instead, she’s created a communal living situation with some friends, and they are all raising their children together. One person stays home with three different family’s children, and all of the other adults work outside of the home. Her son is in kindergarten and spends all of his time with her housemates, who are in essence raising him. She sees him for an hour or two a day. He’s already asleep when she gets off work. She doesn’t get to tuck him in, or even say good night. Someone else is essentially raising her kid. She turns away from me and leans against the counter. “That wasn’t exactly my plan when I got pregnant.”
I can only imagine what it’s like to be in any income bracket and working full time- or beyond full time- trying to make enough to support both yourself, and your child, and the lifestyle for the location you are living in. In Oregon, in a fairly rural community, the cost of living isn’t all that high. But what is the cost in San Francisco? What about the cost of private school? What if your child has medical expenses? What if the other parent doesn’t pay child support on time, or doesn’t pick up when they are supposed to? You love your child, but how are you supposed to balance EVERYTHING by yourself? How do the logistics of that even work?
And who do you turn to for support? My friend at the grocery store had no one. I was the first person that had asked her about her situation in months. Who do you have to check in with? Would it help if you could reach out to someone for immediate support on a rough day?
On my 30th birthday I sat and cried that my future was so unknown. Would I ever have kids? Could I even have kids? Unproven fertility is a question that plagues us as women so much more heavily as we grow older. Waiting until we turn 40 to ask questions about our bodies is so much more scary than doing it at 30. At 30, the media tells us, we have options. At 40, those options have been greatly reduced. There are still options, but it’s more of a battle. But even at 30, I was terrified.
Empowered with a decade’s experience of reading women’s magazines and terrified by the recounting of dozens of horror stories, I elected to undergo fertility testing just before my 32nd birthday. There were some suspicious factors and given a little family history my doctor was concerned. Frankly, so was I. After the blood tests were drawn however, my anxiety shot through the roof. I couldn’t sleep and I flew through packages of Cheetos and jars of almond butter like I was trying to audition for the Biggest Loser. I had to wait weeks before the blood tests could be drawn because they had to be taken at a particular point in my cycle. Then it was days of waiting for the actual results to be processed.
The day finally came when the test results were expected. I woke up in a panic and tried to calm myself while spacing out staring at the smooth white ceiling over my bed. I ponied up enough to call the office around noon and was told the results appeared to be back, but a nurse would need to call me to discuss. Hours pass. Nothing. It was a Friday and the office would be closed over the weekend. My anxiety started increasing again with each minute the clock crept closer to closing. I called again, this time, no answer.
At this point, I lost it.
(Welcome to crazy town.)
I frantically called friends and screamed into their voicemails something like,
“WHY WON’T YOU ANSWER YOUR DAMN PHONES WHEN I NEED YOU?”
I felt alone. I felt like no one understood. I needed support. And I needed to just cry and be heard. I didn’t have anyone to fill that role, and I wish I did.
I took the dog for a walk, shaking and crying, and calling the doctor’s office on speed dial, over and over, trying to get through their phone lines before they closed for the weekend, which were busy because of another health scare that was going on. Calling yet another friend who did not pick up her phone when I called, I shouted into the line,
“YES I FEEL BAD PEOPLE ARE FREAKING OUT ABOUT MENEGITIS, BUT I JUST WANT TO KNOW IF I CAN HAVE BABIES!”
I redialed the doctor, yet again. This time I got a new recording. The doctor’s office had closed an hour earlier than scheduled. I dropped the phone on the ground and started to pant.
I was up on the levee by my house, my beagle dragging me on his leash, just hoping I would loosen up enough so he could sniff some garbage on the side of the trail. The sun was setting over the Three Sisters Mountains and it was beautiful. But I cried. Waiting three more days to find out if I could ever have children, and having absolutely no support, and no one to turn to, sounded horrendous. I felt defeated. I stood there for a few minutes before picking up my phone and continuing on the trail, wondering what my next step in life was supposed to be. I felt completely disempowered without my test results.
If I could have had anything in that moment, it would have been a live human with me telling me to take a breath and that everything was going to be okay. That I just had to survive this moment. Just having someone be present in the moment with me. That’s what I needed. But it wasn’t an option, and standing there alone in the dark on the levee I tried to pull it together- but only because I had no other option.
The next week I found myself in the doctor’s office again. Same scratchy gown. My naked legs dangling off the table again. My doctor bustled in with my results. I had finally reached a nurse on the phone but they had no idea how to interpret my results and more waiting ensued until I could come into the office.
I like my doctor a lot. But I can’t help but notice her convex abdomen as she struggles to settle in the chair. She blouses out her new maternity top and flips open my chart. I turn away from her pregnant belly and try to focus on an STD chart across the room while she goes through my results, one excruciating line at a time. The room is so quiet my breath sounds like roaring.
My ears perk up as her pitch suddenly heightens. It’s not so bad actually. It’s not quite perfect, but she is optimistic. I try to restrain myself from beaming. I will take an optimistic diagnosis over the anxiety ridden hell I have subjected myself to over the last few months any day. She doesn’t know what’s wrong, but it may not be all bad.
I will take that.