Gaining Empathy for My Own Parents Through Parenting

Until I had kids, I never really thought about my mom having a life before being a mother. But now, one of the biggest gifts of becoming a mom myself is the ability to see things from her perspective. And ahh, it’s so easy to empathize with her now that I know how difficult it is to be a parent—now that I know intimately what it feels like to have your heart outside of your own body, walking around in the big world.

A few years ago I remember being annoyed when my Mom was talking about what I was like as a child. She complained, “You were the type of kid who always needed three meals a day.” It was such a small thing, what she said, but it struck me. I felt like she was complaining about a very basic human need. Of course kids need to eat and parents need to feed them, and breakfast, lunch, and dinner seem standard…for all of us. But just yesterday, when I was searching desperately for an afternoon snack for my grumpy toddler, who was just about at peak-meltdown and had refused everything I offered, I started to laugh because I finally understood what she meant.

My mom is someone who is always on the go. She doesn’t like to sit around the house, she works around the clock and when she isn’t working, she’s helping someone move, running errands, or doing favors for just about anyone who asks. She doesn’t plan her schedule around meals, she eats when she can. So I get it now. What she was really complaining about was how she had to change herself and her schedule to accommodate me, constantly.

Now it seems so silly for me to be annoyed about it because she dared complain 20 years later. I complain about certain things I have to do for James almost every day (as I vacuum the house for the third time in a day or step on a teeny tiny block that made its way into the bathroom). Parenting is hard and it’s humbling. It’s also the joy of my life, the most meaningful and transcendent journey I’ll ever go on. My mom told me that, too, but before I had James, I might have listened, but I didn’t hear it.

These days, several times a day, I think about her back when she was raising me. I think about how she was so much younger than me when she had her first baby, when she had her second baby, and I can’t even imagine parenting so young. I think back to what she must have felt like when she was trying to figure out the newborn stage without all the knowledge in the world available in her pocket. I think about how she had to do it mostly alone, working 70+ hours a week just to barely get by, parenting through grief and pain and all the uncertainty, and oh god, I know I wouldn’t have ever been as strong or capable as she was. But that’s hindsight, isn’t it, breaking your heart and healing it at the same time.

I wish I could go back in time and, I don’t know, just hold her, tell her she was doing great, thank her. I can’t, of course. All I can do is love her, love James as good as she loved me, and maybe one day he’ll know what I know now, too.

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18 thoughts on “Gaining Empathy for My Own Parents Through Parenting

  1. Albertina Geller

    Having a kid really changes your perspective on your own childhood. It’s great to hear about your newfound appreciation for your mother. A very beautiful post. Thank you for sharing this with us :)

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  2. Judy

    Being a parent definitely makes us realize all the love and effort and grueling days that went into keeping us cloypthedvand fed and feeling safe. My mom often worked 3 jobs bim forever grateful that she was at every school meeting, she got me wonderful used ice skates and somehow for every dance she got my sister and I new dresses. Christmas was one gift each and I never felt anything but a celebration and family togetherness.

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  3. Jen Herdel

    Such beautiful recognition of your Mom. Hindsight is only 20/20 to those who bother to notice and it’s indeed a gift. Life is a series of lessons and a whole bunch of humble pie! The gift you have is that you recognize the frailties of life and see the beauty in them and can empathize and learn. You have a big heart. I love your relationship with your Mom and so happy for your new little family. God bless you always.

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  4. valerie

    What a beautiful loving tribute to your mom. I am sure she will feel ALL of your love when reading this. And go easy on yourself – of course we don’t know what it’s like until we go through something similar… the best thing we can do is learn, as you are and have, that our parents were and are human, and they made mistakes just like we do. I teared up reading this as I thought about my own parents and how much I have learned about them and myself as we have grown and gone through our various life experiences. It’s such a gift to have them. Thanks for your vulnerability and transparency.

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  5. Simone Roy

    I just listened to your audio book with you as narrator. I loved it! But reading this post now and understanding all that your mom has lived through gives it so much more meaning. I too reflect on my mom’s life raising seven children, a divorce after 22 years, a son’s suicide, a wonderful second marriage. She was an amazing mom and person. She’s been gone 4 years next month, miss her so much but hope I can be to my boys what she was to all of us. Enjoy your posts so much!

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  6. Joanne

    Andie, you wrote these truths so well. it’s truly mind boggling, isn’t it?! This was one of the biggest epiphanies I had after having children too. And the crazy thing is (my) James is only 4, so I know there’s so much more raising to do and many new phases to come. It takes so much to raise each and every human on the planet, it’s really incredible when you get to appreciate that from the perspective of being a parent. Hope you’re doing well with your second pregnancy and you and your family are doing great. Miss you <3

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  7. Pingback: What I Love This Week - Andie Mitchell

  8. Naomi Mimnaugh

    SO True, Andie. Having our own children gives us perspective and appreciation for our own Mothers. Happy Mother’s Day to you. xxx

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  9. Laurence Nolan

    What a beautiful post. I became a fan of your mother when you helped her lose weight with all of us following her. Then when I read your first book, she used some of her retirement funds to help you to finance your surgery because of the weight loss. Mothers, wonderful mothers, understand such needs of a child. It’s so nice to be able to let your mother know how much you understand her as a mother as you learn from mothering your son.

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