Compassion for Others
As a parent of a child with special needs, I have learned firsthand about compassion.
What is compassion exactly? Compassion literally means “to suffer together”. Among emotion researchers, it is defined as the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering.
I am sure that all caregivers can relate to that. When I think of it, this means that compassion is the true meaning of loving my daughter unconditionally – when I can see past the acting out, tantrums, throwing things, breaking things, etc. and love her 100 percent and want to relieve my precious child from her suffering.
For me personally, the compassion arrives when I remind myself that the behaviour of my daughter is separate from who she is as a person. She has a rare genetic disease that affects the development of her brain, so she has an intellectual disability among other delays.
My daughter received her diagnosis when she was six years old, and it gave me great comfort to know that her behaviour was not her fault. Not that I ever blamed her for her actions, it simply allowed me to find deeper compassion for her once I had learned that her brain was made differently.
It allows me to look for compassion in the darkest hours of her behaviour.
While tapping into the compassion for my daughter is getting easier and easier, what about finding compassion for the other kids?
I was faced with this dilemma this week.
When I picked Summer up from school, her teacher told me that she had had an emotional day with lots of tears. The teacher explained that one of Summer’s classmates that been pinching her in the arm and that I should look for marks when we get home (thankfully, there were no marks on her arms).
The teacher reassured me that a behavioural therapist would be coming into the classroom to manage this issue.
MY heart broke a little and I became angry with this ‘kid’ for hurting my daughter. I remained all evening. What made it more challenging was that I could not ask Summer any of the details to find out what really happened.
It was only the next morning when I was thinking about Summer going to school, did I have to stop myself and ask myself whether I could have compassion for another child with special needs?
Summer is in a class where all of the students have global development delay.
Part of me understands that each child is facing his or her unique challenges. Yet still, it was hard to find a place in my heart where I could feel compassion for this other student and try to send them love.
I sometimes feel that my personal vessel of compassion is only for my daughter. Summer goes through ebbs and flows of good days and bad days. During the bad days, I access compassion almost on a daily basis.
It is during that time when I feel that I have little left to give to others – even my son and husband.
Part of my own journey and growth is learning to become more aware of how I am feeling – and then giving myself grace and forgiveness.
I do believe that we caregivers are doing the best that we can. When we know better, we do better.
Today, I’m celebrating one small step forward in expanding my vessel of compassion.
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I am grateful that I get to spend this time with her and her brother. I will honour this time of a more relaxed schedule.
Whichever route a family chooses, what matters is knowing when to ask for help and how to get the right help to care for any family member that needs an additional helping hand.