Empathy, like wisdom, comes in time

I just read one of the most beautiful blogs I’ve seen in a while: “To my friends who had kids before me, I’m sorry I didn’t know.”

It speaks such a raw and honest truth that most of us experience in the throes of childbirth and recovery, especially for those of us who are the first of our close circles to have children. That is, feeling alone in the growing pains of being born a mother. This feeling of isolation is exacerbated when our closest friends don’t know what to say or do because our struggles are just not relevant to them. 

This never bothered me too much probably because the military life has calloused me to compartmentalizing my friendships with each move. I have to make new friends as part of my norm, which means my longest and oldest friendships don’t necessarily follow me through the intricacies and everyday struggles of my current chapter more than they stay special to me for other reasons.

I firmly believe the saying, “Some people come into our lives and quickly go, others stay awhile, make footprints on our hearts, and we are never ever the same.” What makes a solid friendship is not how close you remain over the years, but how impactful you are in supporting one another during the time you are given. This doesn’t mean that our friends will remain the most impactful people in our lives through every chapter, though. That’s a hell of a lot of pressure.

I never expected my friends to necessarily be the ones to help me with brand new motherhood. I did expect them to listen if I talked, to celebrate in my wins, to comfort if I cried, and to check in if I fell silent. But I did not expect them to predict, fill in, or advocate for my specific needs as a new mom. I did not expect them to empathize with the unique struggles of my life’s greatest transformation when they had no personal experience yet.

It was my job to fill in the gap of those friendships where growth in my life didn’t align with theirs. It was my job to open my heart to new friendships that could bring new purpose relevant to what I needed as a mother.

I grew as a mother, and my circle needed to grow with it.

It places unnecessary guilt on each other as women when we start apologizing for things left unsaid, undone at a time when we had no way of fully knowing what to say or do.  Like wisdom, empathy comes with experience and time. It’s important to remember that not all support will come with empathy because not everyone can give it, and we shouldn’t attempt to give it when it is not genuine.

I would rather have empathy on postpartum anxiety come from someone who has experience with it. I would rather have empathy on breastfeeding struggles from someone who has also had breastfeeding struggles, because empathy is, quite literally, the ability to understand. That’s hard to do without the life experience.

To my friends who had kids before me, I hope that what support I did attempt brought some level of comfort and familiarity even if it wasn’t all that you needed at the time. I hope that you did find people who completed your village because you deserve to feel wholly supported and encouraged.

To my friends who haven’t had kids yet and have loved me through my own transformation, I hope you know that what support you did, and continue to provide,  is well-received because it is genuine. Authenticity matters to me more than anything.

To my new friends who jumped in with support during a huge storm of change, I hope you know that your ability to empathize and open your heart without knowing me for very long has forever impacted my family. I can’t promise we will always be able to support one another this closely as we enter different chapters of our lives, but I hope we continue to find deserving, impactful friendships.

Lastly, to the women who are about to become mothers, trust in your voice and take charge of your motherhood. Don’t apologize for what you didn’t know before; advocate for what you know now.

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