The Empathy Gene exists! Truly, it does. I attest to it because I have two boys – one who has it and one who does not. Even when he was very young (before he could speak or sign), it was evident that Aristotle could understand when someone was unwell or upset. I remember an incident when I was down with a flu bug and I told him that I was sick and asked him to play by himself so I could rest nearby. I don’t remember how old Aristotle was, but he was very young because I remembered signing “sick” so definitely before 18 months. I also remember wondering if he would understand me at all and feeling doubtful that he would. It was also a period when Aristotle was going through a phase of being demanding so I knew it was going to be rough looking after him while I was sick. I remembered the surprise I felt when he did play quietly by himself and he didn’t fuss at all the entire day. He had understood me and he did his best to let Mummy rest!
In contrast, compare a recent incident with Hercules (who is now 2.5 years old) when I was sick with the flu and I was aching all over. I told Hercules that I was sick so please be gentle with Mummy but what did he do? He played WWF with me. Ordinarily, it hurts when a 14-15kg toddler throws his entire weight on you. When you’re aching from the flu, it hurts exponentially more. As I lay there moaning in pain, Hercules was still bouncing around me precariously laughing like it was the most fun he’s ever had. Yup, the empathy gene is seriously lacking in this one…
The stark differences between Aristotle and Hercules have demonstrated the positive and negative attributes in each of them. Although Hercules might be missing the empathy gene, he takes everything in stride and gets over things very easily – which makes it a lot easier to handle him. For instance, both boys recently had their vaccinations. Aristotle had his first and he was still howling while I waited to pay the bill. He was crying with such hysteria that even the nurse looked amused by his extreme reaction. Hercules, on the other hand, had already stopped crying before we were even out the door of the doctor’s consultation room.
As parents, I know we aren’t supposed to make comparisons between our children because it might undermind their self-worth and how they perceive themselves in our eyes. It may aggravate the rivalry that already exists between them and their siblings, and they may feel that their parents are playing favourites. I agree to a certain extent. Let’s be honest – it is impossible for parents not to notice the differences. And children, with their sixth sense, are accutely aware of it. So rather than trying to deny that such differences exist or to pretend that we don’t notice them (because it’s a lie and our children know us better than that), look for the qualities of each child to find their individual strengths and celebrate them.
Every child is different and they each bring to the household something special. Sometimes it is more obvious what that is for one child compared to the other(s). That’s when we need to work harder to observe the strengths of the other child(ren) so every child feels equally valued, even if it is for different reasons.