Practicing Compassion

April 27th, 2011 by Dionna | 5 Comments
Posted in Adults, Children, Consensual Living, Eclectic Learning, Gentle/Positive Discipline, Guest Posts, Just for Fun/Miscellaneous, natural parenting, Preschoolers, Respond with Sensitivity, Teens, Toddlers

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“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” – The Dalai Lama

A friend told me a story about a ski trip he’d recently taken. One of the days that they were in Vermont for their trip, he and his friends woke up to icier conditions than expected. They decided to put on their snowshoes and hike up the mountain to the ski lift and back instead of skiing in the ice. Carrying packs and donning their gear, the three set out for a nice hike. But halfway through, my friend Rob was winded, exhausted, and not enjoying himself.

His pals were up a few feet ahead, talking and laughing with one another, which really annoyed him; he was so jealous of their ability to hike the steep, snowy terrain and have enough energy left to talk to one another – while he was trudging behind them, staring at the ground and counting each step, barely able to catch his breath, much less talk! After a while, one of Rob’s friends turned around to check on him. Seeing he wasn’t having such a great time, he reached out his hand and said, “Rob, give me your pack.”

Freed of his pack, Rob realized that he had been trudging along with his head bend down toward the ground, straining his neck, and taking small, dragging steps. Without the pack on his shoulders, he was able to lift his head, take longer strides, and actually enjoy his hike. The pack hadn’t been very heavy, but it had been pointing his attention downward, narrowing his focus to just getting through the hike. Once he was walking without it, he said it made a miraculous difference.

“I had been thinking to myself that Vermont wasn’t all it was cracked up to be – but once I lifted my head, I really enjoyed the scenery and had a rejuvenating hike with my friends. What a difference it made to be freed of that pack on my shoulders!

My Natural Parenting “Pack”

Hearing this story, I immediately thought of the way I had recently been feeling, and the interesting way that these feelings had been alleviated. I, too, had been struggling with a “pack on my shoulders.” Natural parenting is a wonderful thing, one of the best gifts you can give to your family. But natural parenting is not always easy; it’s especially hard when you’re approaching it from a standpoint that’s hindered by your own expectations and burdens.

Being a military wife, frequently coping with deployments and homecomings, parenting a toddler, and pregnant with our second child, I had started to feel pretty overwhelmed. Just like in Rob’s story, the weight of the challenges in my life was affecting the way that I moved through my days. My natural parenting methods, usually joyful and freeing, had started to feel difficult and strained. It was becoming increasingly difficult to speak to my two-year-old daughter with empathy and respect. I found myself barking orders, groaning in disdain for almost every behavior, and complaining to my friends about my frustrations. I was frustrated with myself. I read posts from my natural parenting friends, and I felt like I wasn’t living up to my expectations of myself as a gentle parent. When my husband came home from deployment, this feeling intensified, as now I had two focuses for my frustration. And the pregnancy hormones started surging as I entered my third trimester.

Just like Rob, when he was annoyed at his friends for talking and laughing and enjoying themselves on their hike while he struggled on behind them, I, too, was jealous of my natural parenting counterparts for being able to get it right, and I was annoyed with my family. I often thought, “I wish I could just get this right!” And how dare my family enjoy themselves when I have so much on my plate?! I’m sure that many moms out there can relate to this feeling. It is difficult to see the joy in life when you’re focused so hard on trudging through daily tasks, comparing yourself to a set of expectations, and carrying what feels like a huge load on your shoulders. But once you are able to lift your head and see the world around you as it actually is, instead of viewing it through all the challenges that you’re feeling – that view changes everything.

Natural Parenting with Compassion

These experiences have helped me focus my parenting on the foundation of compassion. It’s very fresh in my mind. When I used expectations and goals as my foundation, even as I practiced natural parenting ideas . . . I ended up trudging through life, focusing more on the struggle and not being able to consistently see the beauty in my family. Honestly, it was a Veggie Tales movie that alerted me to the usefulness of compassion. In Jonah: A Veggie Tales Movie, one of the characters defines compassion and mercy – talking about how God always sees us with love and forgives our mistakes, and that everyone deserves a second chance. That afternoon, I started to try and treat situations with mercy and compassion, and when I saw the results of my experiment, it changed everything.

After that initial experiment, I decided to make compassion a real practice for every day. I went back to the very basics of a natural parenting philosophy. I treated every interaction with a perspective of empathy. I acknowledged the fact that when a certain behavior irritated me, there was an emotional or physical reason for the behavior, and that reason was valid despite my own reaction. I let my daughter know that I accepted her feelings, and usually the best way to do this was to give her a hug or a pat on the back before speaking to her, regardless of whether I was in a rush or if she was doing something traditionally thought of as “disrespectful.” And only then, after utilizing compassion for her, whatever request I had for her wouldn’t frustrate her. Instead, she would respond with enthusiasm, speaking back to me with as much respect as I spoke to her (and sometimes more!). Subsequently, daily tasks like getting dressed, changing pull ups, sitting at the table during meals, playing quietly during a phone call, or calming down instead of spiraling out of control, were once again not a struggle, but a normal, happy part of our day. I treated my daughter with compassion, and by my example, she was compassionate back.

I also realized that I could have compassion for myself. If I slipped up, I instantly treated myself with forgiveness, rectified the situation, and moved on. I let go of my expectations for myself as well as for my child, and I looked at every situation with empathy. Suddenly our old, joyous, freeing days were back. I was able to lift my head and enjoy the silly things that my daughter would do throughout the day. I’d see her brilliance shine through play. I could watch my husband teach her to play hide and seek with such joy, even though I’d have my hands in a sink of dirty dishes at the same time that they were giggling and having fun. Practicing compassion, I really enjoy life (even in my incredibly hormonal third trimester!), and I feel my daughter not only reciprocating the compassion that I show her, but also showing compassion to others.

So, what is compassion? Be sure to check out my follow-up post on compassion at Toddler in Tow this Friday.


Amy is a dance teacher and college student turned proud military wife and natural mommy. She is mommy to a 2 1/2 year old girl and newborn baby boy, and blogs at Toddler In Tow about her parenting and breastfeeding experiences in order to inspire others to parent appropriate to a child’s needs. She is currently working to earn certification as an Internationally Board Certified Lactation Consultant, and if she’s not running around with the kiddos or enjoying time with her husband, she’s probably buried in a lactation or child development text, writing a blog post, or sewing or knitting something.

5 Responses to:
"Practicing Compassion"

  1. Shawna

    I had the very same revelation watching the Veggie Tales movie this weekend . . . and I live in Vermont. How strange the way God can interweave ideas in our lives!

  2. Anjanette   anjanetteopal

    THANK YOU! Beautiful and just what I needed to read!

  3. Lovely and pointed reminder for all of us!
    Thank you!


  4. Fiona

    What a beautiful post. Thank you.

  5. I treated every interaction with a perspective of empathy.

    This is my reminder as well! I try to always see things through my daughter’s eyes before reacting. Great post!

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