Feeling is believing.
Parents can feel exposed in public, not just because countless strangers offer up their unsolicited advice, warnings, and cautionary tales about the future mostly to make themselves feel better about their choices…but also because most parents are sensitive to other people’s disapproving glances and/or comments.
Airplanes have become difficult places for young toddlers to be received with compassion and kindness. As well as libraries, contemplative church services, concerts. And restaurants.
This morning, during breakfast, at the hotel I am staying at while away with my family, I hear a loud bump and the wail of a very young child. I turn around and see a girl about two and a half years old crying the big, open, back-molar cry. He dad is sitting next to her cutting eggs up. Mom is in the bathroom.
Instantly, her big sister pulls her in to her collarbone, and rubs her back, caresses her face, tucks her head down to cradle her baby sister’s, and holds her with great compassion and care, without shushing her, without looking around at the patrons, without looking the slightest bit impatient or annoyed with her volume or tears.
Baby sis stays in her sister’s arms, crying big tears, while she allows her sister to soothe her.
Big sister is not a teenager. In fact, she isn’t quite five.
Yes, a four and half year-old sister comforting her two and half year-old sibling.
Mom returned from the bathroom, and sat down, asking calmly,”What happened?” The little girl crawls into her mom’s lap and her tears dry.
Why the play-by-play?
Because there’s a massively powerful lesson here for us all.
When a young child of nearly five responds with concern and then compassion for her sibling who is feeling vulnerable and distressed, it is because she has been taught, through watching her parents, that this is the human response to another person’s pain.
But, if the big sister, in her short five years on planet Earth, had witnessed her parents, one or the other, or both, hushing loud cries, suppressing tears, responding with consternation and condemnation—
“Stop that right now or we’re leaving this restaurant!”
“Stop being such a crybaby!”
“If you can’t sit properly like a big girl, you won’t be able to eat here with us!”
—then the message to the sibling is very different. Instead of compassion for her sister, she is likely to feel contempt.
“Ugh! Why are you so stupid?!”
“You’re such a faker!”
While the young sister cradles her baby sis, she is healing the world.
See, her love for her sister moved me…moved my brother who was sitting with me…deeply touched my husband who walked in right in that moment…and here I am sharing it with a few hundred thousand people now.
A child, barely ready for kindergarten, has a heart big enough to calm chaos, a mind open enough to see temporary suffering as part of nature, a young innocent confidence profound enough to be called up from her already intact wisdom.
This is how we create peace.
We honor emotions in our children, make room for pain, call up our courage to respond with compassion, knowing everything passes, and know, all the while, our children are not so much watching, as feeling our responses.