I once heard it pondered if God gives children with special needs to really incredible people or if having a child with special needs turns you into a really incredible person. Well, I didn't know my mom before Leanne graced her life but I can testify that she's an incredible person, either way.
Mama Hop and baby Leanne
One of the most cherished qualities that my mother demonstrates and tried to instill in us is empathy.
Empathy is defined by Merriam Webster as the feeling that you understand and share another person's experiences and emotions: the ability to share someone else's feelings.
I first recall my mother teaching me about empathy when I was in elementary school. There was this girl I'll call "Sally," who used to pick on my girlfriends and I mercilessly. Every day, she'd target us with snide remarks and insults. It was a little scary facing her, not knowing what sort of put downs she had in store and which of us she would focus on that day. I remember coming home to my mom and lamenting about this situation. I'm going to omit details that could potentially identify or hurt this individual here, but my mom sat me down and talked about Sally's life. She had encountered hardships and obstacles that my privileged friends and I had never had to experience. My mom explained that when people are wounded, they will sometimes attempt to tear others down to feel better about themselves. And knowing that there were so many variables in Sally's life that made her feel inadequate and isolated, my mom challenged me to empathize. She asked me not to look at the situation as though I was a victim; but rather to identify with Sally's emotions. In doing that, how could I try to make Sally feel better about herself? I went back to school, armed with my mom's advice, and I began to disarm Sally with compliments. And you know what happened? Sally backed off. She softened. And I learned a very valuable lesson: When someone is exhibiting a behavior that is hurtful, I try to put myself in their shoes and I try to understand the motive behind that behavior. Genuine attempts to empathize will lead me to more patience and peace; and in turn, it will often pave the way for conflict resolution.
Altruism is likely driven by empathy - our tendency to "resonate" with the emotional and physical states of other people. (Source)
I've referenced my mom's commitment to altruism and to instilling this value in my sister and I. I noted that Leanne was never exempt from charitable endeavors; my mom expected her to use her gifts and resources to help others, exactly as she expected me to do. Accompanying my mom to deliver Meals on Wheels, decorating the church, and picking up an underprivileged student from my mom's class and having him/her accompany our family out for a movie and a Happy Meal were ways that my mom attempted to broaden our sense of empathy. She wanted us to experience other sides of life so that we could proceed in our own lives with a greater understanding and appreciation for the plight of others.
This is truly one of the greatest lessons I learned from my mother. And she taught by example. She taught by offering us hands-on experiences. As I now walk down the path of motherhood myself, I hope to equip my daughters with this valuable perspective that my mom instilled in us.
Happy Mother's Day!