84. How parenting with empathy can transform your relationship

I have been coaching women who shy away from empathy in their motherhood and relationships. 

Sometimes this is because they can’t see it as a part of a solution, maybe it doesn’t come naturally to them. Most often we don’t bring empathy into parenting because we don’t want to enable our kids or express any permissiveness of their poor behaviour. 

I want to unpack what empathy is, the two types of it, and how to bring it into your parenting without using it as a way to enable poor behaviour. Empathy can increase our connection and relationship – which helps us work on conflict resolution together. 

Find the full transcript at the end of this post

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This is part one.

In this episode we cover:

  • The two types of empathy
  • How empathy helps make our lives better
  • The phenomenon of having empathy for ‘the bad guy’ 
  • Empathy is not enabling
  • Empathy is not the silver bullet solution to conflict with our kids
  • How empathy teaches our kids emotional intelligence 
  • How expressing empathy to our children helps them offer it to others
  • Empathy helps us both deal with the discomfort of their negative emotions

The book I mention in this episode is Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child by John Gottman I have a thorough book summary on that book right here

I also mentioned SISU, which is a Finnish concept of grit and resilience. It is from a great book I read a couple of years ago called The Finnish Way


Sign up for information about one-on-one life coaching with Shawna Scafe – Certified Coach Practitioner & Certified in Transformational Life Coaching. 

How parenting with empathy can transform your relationship


If you’re new here a little bit about me, I am a mom of three kids in small-town, Canada. I am a life coach, a minimalist mom. And I started out my career as a health inspector, very underwhelming job. And I gave that up once my second child was born, to stay at home with them, which evolved into me being here, somehow just taking step after step, idea after idea down the road, to where now I am life coaching women and helping them show up for their lives.

That’s my whole goal for you, is to give you some freedom and power to show up for your life to enjoy your life. No matter where you are, even if you’re knee-deep with toddlers, or you’re balancing work life and mom life. I want to help you show up well for your life.

As I mentioned, I am in small town Canada and our province is going into another wave of COVID restrictions, we’re entering into another time of somewhat isolation, but not as extreme as last March. So we’re really relying again on what we can do outside even though it’s cold, and there’s snow around. Getting outside for walks is a huge thing.

Last week, I took my daughter for a walk and we walked an hour right across town, the sun was shining, it was beautiful. And I don’t know about you, but I feel like with my kids, if I pour into them one on one, just being with them just I had to just walk with her and listen to her, it was easy, that she is so much more receptive to me so much more warm with me that it just, it makes us such a stronger connection.

And I think that’s so important when your kid is maybe pulling away like she’ll sometimes do that pulling them a bit closer, is going to keep them closer, and I’m going to talk about something today that’s really going to help with this.

I’m going to talk about empathy.

And it’s something that I’ve been coaching on and I’m hearing more and more moms and women are shying away from using empathy in their relationships. And maybe because it doesn’t seem like a possible step towards a solution. Maybe it feels like empathy would make things permissible, and it’s almost accepting of people’s poor behaviour. Maybe empathy doesn’t come natural, it doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Some people have more propensity to it, some people were raised with more emphasis on it and more ability to practice it.

But whatever it is, I want to offer some tools that can help bring empathy into your relationships, because I feel like this is what makes relationships a safer place to be. This is where connection happens. And you might want to make a safer connection, more enjoyable connection, maybe with your friends, maybe with your partner, maybe with your kids, maybe with yourself even.

So let’s talk about empathy. And, you know, I drafted this, these notes. I was in the tub the other night and I just jumped out of the tub and started writing out these notes. They just came into my head. And then I sat down to type in a few more things today, which turned into me going down the rabbit trail hours and hours that I spent on the internet. It ended up with me on youtube watching videos of some Finnish people sharing the finished art of sisu, s-i-s-u I’ll link that in the show notes because it’s actually a really fascinating concept. Anyways, I went down the rabbit trail. Now I’m back I went to the ends of the Internet, and I’ve come back.

So today I want to talk about empathy. I want to talk a bit about what it is how it can help your relationships. And I want to talk about empathy that we can have with our children that we can have as parents, I’m going to follow up this with the second episode, where I’m going to talk more about the empathy that we can bring into our marriage. I love relationships into our friendships, and I’m going to wrap it up with Okay, we have empathy. Now, what do we do with this? Because empathy, like anything else can be too much or not enough. So what does it look like to actually use this empathy in a way that grows our relationships, that makes them a safe place that helps us thrive together.

So I want to talk about the two types of empathy first one is emotional empathy. And that is the kind of empathy that I can I can feel their emotion I feel for them. And some people can even feel it somatically in their body that they feel distress when someone else is in discomfort, like when your kid is hurt, you feel that you feel it in your own body as well. Sometimes it’s hard to offer this emotional empathy. It’s hard to let yourself be taken into that experience with someone. And for many of us, it was an easier start to start with the other type of cognitive empathy. Which is where you can imagine what they might be thinking and feeling. This is easier in cases where you have maybe a strong negative emotion towards someone you don’t want to step into empathy with. 

And Daniel Goleman has written a lot of research on emotional intelligence. This is part of being emotionally intelligent is empathy. But he calls this cognitive empathy, perspective taking, it’s like, what would it be like in their shoes, and a lot of us have grown up to listen to that, to hear this, like, just imagine what it’s like for them. And sometimes we can remove the emotion from it. And we can just get curious like, Okay, what could someone be thinking? What could they be feeling that would make them act that way?

Empathy has a lot of science behind it, because of its role in emotional intelligence. And there’s studies that point towards someone being empathetic, they have a higher level of well being and functioning in society, they have larger social circles, more satisfying relationships. I know Bernie Brown has written a lot on this, I haven’t read anything she’s written, I have seen like a little video or two. And from what I gather, she explains empathy is something that helps us see say to each other, like you’re not alone. That is just a fundamental part of connection. It’s a fundamental part of what we want as a human.

So I think it’s really fascinating to think about having empathy for someone in your life that you think is a bad, like, they’re not a good person, or they’re doing things wrong. And then I always think about those times when I’m watching a movie, or a TV show, where you follow the story of the quote, unquote, bad guy, and you almost start to root for him in a way. Like, we got really heavy into Mad Men. And I was telling my husband’s friend, oh, we watch Mad Men, and I love it. He’s like, my wife hates it, she thinks Don Draper is the worst, and he is the worst. But why do I root for him? Why do I have compassion for him? Because I have empathy for him. Because I am putting myself in his shoes. I am trying to take his perspective. Isn’t it fascinating that we can have empathy for people when we start to know more of their story? And I think knowing their story is just that curiosity that we can start with asking ourselves why? Why?

That always reminds me of the office episode, where Michael asks Toby, why are you the way you are?

But not in a way that’s going to corner them not in a way that’s going to accuse them? But even just in your mind being a little bit open? Like, this is hard for them? I wonder why. From what I know about them? Why would this be hard for them in this situation? So that’s just an opening question.

But I’m going to talk a little bit more about having empathy with our kids, with our partner, and then with the people in our lives. So with our kids, we’re often fearful that empathy will be enabling.

And I read a book that changed my whole parenting experience. It’s called raising an emotionally intelligent child. And I’m going to link my summary of that book in the show notes. If you want to read that it’s going to be it’s very thorough. But it’s such a great book because it taught me that empathy creates a connection.

We are raised to be really uncomfortable with negative feelings, hard feelings, seeing our kids upset, these things are hard for us, which causes us generally to rush them through it or push them through it or punish these feelings that they’re having. The author of this book offers empathy, as another option of an option of connecting with them an option of our showing up as parents, because when we’re doing that, now we’re teaching them some new skills.

We’re teaching them to recognize their own feelings, like pay attention to how you’re feeling, let yourself feel those things. This makes you more emotionally intelligent, more resilient. It’s showing them that empathy is an option that they can have for themselves and for others, and empathy is not enabling, because here with our kids, we’re saying, your feelings are okay, like you feelings make sense. It’s okay. It’s okay to feel that way. But your actions are not okay. Your actions are what we need to work on.

Imagine the times that you as a child felt these big, huge emotions, and you weren’t sure what to do with them. Have you had situations in your life where someone has come in and been like, it’s okay to cry, and you just like start crying. You just let it all out. You’re like, I just needed permission. I just needed to know I’m not even as an adult. Like, I just need to know I’m not being crazy or overreacting like that. We can offer this to our kids from an early age that your feelings are okay, here. I see you. I see you have feelings, and I still love you. I’m still I’m still here with you. You’re still safe.

Empathy is also not a silver bullet. It can be sometimes, for instance, the other day, my six year old was crying because he wanted to take his ukulele to school. And we love his teacher. We don’t want to bring his ukulele to school, but he’s crying and he’s angry at us. He’s hiding under the table. And I was down there and I was like, you really want to bring that to school? Hey, and he’s crying. He’s like, It’s my dream. And I’m like, yeah, it’s hard when your dreams don’t come true. Even if your dream is only seven minutes old, it’s still hard, right? Like I can have empathy for him in that situation. And in that situation, I just held his hand and walked him down to the door and he got ready for school, it seemed to just defuse it enough that he could move on.

Sometimes empathy is not the silver bullet, like this morning. So you can tell the theme of my mornings, my daughter wanted to know that she could have a can of coke when she got home from school. I don’t know why. And I can say like, I know, it’s hard for you when you want this, and you can have it. But she’s still angry, she’s still going to be working through her frustrations. This isn’t the silver bullet that makes everything go away. But this is a connection point for us.

This is also for me, personally, a way I want to show up as a parent, this is something I value as a parent is being an empathetic parent, not an enabling parent, not a permissive parent, but someone who says, Yeah, I see you, I feel you, and you’re still safe here.

And really empathy, in my opinion, and makes it less about that their feelings and actions are an offense to me that they are a way of targeting me, because it’s really not about us right? for them. When we come at them with empathy, we’re recognizing that they’re feeling discomfort, they don’t know what to do with it, it feels bigger than them, rather than turning it around, and punishing that and making it into an issue of being a personal offense against us.

Rather than an issue of them having these huge emotions, and maybe emotions that confuse them, maybe emotions, they don’t know how to deal with thoughts, they don’t know how to deal with that they need a hand working through empathy is the first step towards that.

All in all, here, I’m encouraging you to bring empathy into your parenting toolkit to use it as one of those conversational connection pieces that you can bring in your daily life. In my experience, using empathy, changes everything It really does. It’s something I offer my kids all the time, if they share with me some we do something around our table called awesome and hard, where each kid goes and says something that was hard today, something that was awesome. And I can have empathy for both of those.

If something was hard, like it was hard to wait my turn for something, or I didn’t want to do this subject in school, and we had to do it. I can say, yeah, it’s hard to wait. Like, that’s pretty simple, right? Or, yeah, you really prefer this subject. The other one, don’t you? Like empathy can be really simple. It’s just simply making people feel seen, and empathy for the amazing things sharing in their things. If something is awesome, like, Oh, I got a goal or whatever happened, like, how did you feel you must have felt so good, that must be make you feel so great. Like, I know, when that happens to me, I feel pretty awesome.

So I can definitely relate. Empathy is just a base for human connection, in my opinion. And I really want to encourage you to bring it into your parenting, because I think it creates a better connection with our kids. It helps us to understand the more to understand their motivations to understand what’s happening in their emotional life, and what’s impacting them.

And this is also practice for us too. Because we are going into emotional situations that make us feel uncomfortable, that we often feel discomfort by there, that discomfort. So it’s it’s growing them. It’s growing us and I really encourage you to check out the summary that I have on the book, raising an emotionally intelligent child. I’ll link that again in the show notes. And if you can’t find the show notes, just go to simple on purpose.ca. Click Listen, everything is there everything that you’ll need.

And stay tuned for the second part of this nor I’m going to talk about empathy in marriage and what to do with empathy. I’m going to be releasing this at the same time as this episode. So hopefully they’ll both be there for you on your podcast player. But if the internet robots decide to hold them up, then head over to the website and you can find it there as well. It’s simple on purpose.ca Click listen



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