As promised last week, this week’s post continues the idea of providing empathetic support to grandparents raising grandchildren.
What is empathy?
Empathy is acknowledging what the person is feeling. You do not have to agree or feel the same thing. You just need to recognize and acknowledge it. Empathy is NOT sympathy. When you reflect your own pity or sorrow onto the person’s situation, you are sympathizing not empathizing.
As I tell the participants in my communication and customer service training workshops, empathy is the most important tool you have to connect with another person. Just the effort of trying to see where they are helps. When someone empathizes with your situation, they build rapport with you. You feel a connection AND relief that someone gets it.
How do you empathize?
Words that should never come out of your mouth include:
- I know exactly how you feel
- I understand
Why? Because you don’t. You might come close to understanding based on what you’ve experienced in your own life, but no one can fully understand what someone else feels in relation to a situation. If you listen to the person, often you’ll gain clues of what they’re feeling. It’s ok to express what you think is going on in them. If you get it wrong, they’ll correct you and still appreciate the effort.
Another phrase that doesn’t empathize is I’m sorry. That’s sympathy, not empathy.
It takes some practice to change the way you respond, but some of the easiest ways to express empathy are:
- It sounds like you’re feeling ___________.
- I’m sensing that you might be _____________.
Identify the emotion you think they’re feeling and insert it in the blank. That’s where the hard part comes in—trying to identify that emotion. Again, if you listen, you will gain clues from what the person says.
In business, I suggest you don’t use the words angry, mad, or upset. These tend to add fuel to the fire. In a personal relationship, you want to be careful about using these words, too.
What do grandparents raising grandchildren feel?
When I wrote my post, Don’t Throw Me a Pity Party, I spoke for myself, providing insight to my own journey; however, I received enthusiastice responses from several people in the same situation. One person’s comment was: “Nailed it!” Believe it or not, I needed to hear that because I feared people might judge me as uncaring.
So keeping in mind that I’m writing this from my own perspecitive, I am going to suggest some of the emotions grandparents raising grandchildren feel.
Tired and Exhausted: We are not as young as we were when we raised our children. It had been thirty years since I’d had a four-year-old in my home when the grands came to live with us. Yes, we’ve adapted over the last three years, but we’re still bone-tired. We don’t bounce back like we did in our twenties and thirties.
Worried about finances: We’re nearing the end of our careers if we’re not already retired. That means there’s a limit to the income coming in and the income we will have to support the kids. Our bank accounts hemorrage money at a time when we can least afford it.
Distanced or separated: Because we’re focused on children, school, homework, activities, we’re thrown into a world far different than the friends we’ve had. I’ve discovered some friends disappear. They don’t try to stay in contact. That hurts. I make an effort to spend time with friends when I can, but it’s a two-way street. I really appreciate the ones who reach out to me instead of waiting for me to contact them. I am making new friends among the parents of the kids classmates, but it takes time.
Alone: This is related to the one above, but it includes the relationship with our spouse. At a time when we’re supposed to be doing the things we’d planned to do once the children moved out, we’ve taken multiple steps backward. By the time we will have the freedom to do those things, we probably won’t have the energy, health, or money. Plus, babysitters are $10/hour! That’s more than minimum wage. When my children were young, babysitters did not make more than minimum wage. We need time to ourselves, but often we can’t afford it.Between exhaustion and the need to keep an income source going longer, we’re missing out on what was supposed to be our time.
So, there you have it. There are more emotions than these, but this will give you some idea how to reach out to us (and by us I mean any grandparent raising grandchildren).