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Searching for Empathy in a Child

A child wants to please their parents until they become a teenager, then the parents try to please their child, all because of the fear that one day they may leave.

Photo by Chaney Archive

Trevor Chaney, at 4 years old, sits in the backseat as he gets dropped off at his grandparents’ house. His early life was a series of dropoffs, mainly between parents, but now he has found solid and healthy footing.

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I want to start this by saying, I am happy with who I am. I am an empathetic person with extreme apathetic tendencies.

I am completely capable of connecting with someone else and feeling sorry for them, but I am polished in picking out legitimate problems and disregarding people’s attempts at self adulation.

I can toe this line easily without ending relationships, regardless of certain conversations being cut short due to my lack of interest in that predictable, “It’s not my fault they started it,” behavior. This is all thanks to the people who made me.  

My parents’ relationship was a game of tug of war, using me as the rope.

But it wasn’t over love, it was to see who could portray a more negative image of the other parent to their son.

I would allow them to talk to me about one another as if I was getting paid an hourly fee for hearing their problems, and for the most part I would agree with whoever’s house I was at.

Then, during my hormonal teen years that everyone loves talking about, I stopped caring about what they were saying. For years it was the same thing over and over again, until I just stopped caring.

To be clear, I love my mom and dad to this day; my relationship with them has become something of a friendship. For the better of course.

My mom knows not to talk to me about problems involving my dad and my dad knows not to talk to me about anything but sports.

Once I removed my emotion away from them, they knew they had to focus their attention on mutual interests, or things that were important to not only them, but to both of us.

Sounds harsh, but we become who we become because of our parents.

I’m simply exercising positive reinforcement behavioral tactics, which my mother emphasized in her elementary classrooms and in our home.

My dad and I have only ever cared about sports, so that was a relatively easy fix, just focus on what we wanted to focus on.

This upbringing now allows me to dismiss someone’s opinion about another person unless that opinion can be factual.

I know that I’m part of a large group of people who grew up with fighting parents, and it’s complicated how we all handle our childhood.

Whether your childhood made you stronger or weaker, it still made you who you are, the opinion of strong or weak is up to our own judgment.

I don’t need any more problems than I already have, so why would I insert myself willingly into yours?

Through years of empathetic behavior, it had only subjected me to more hate-filled rants.

As I started to show my lack of interest in what  my parents had to say on certain subjects, I’ve actually become more comfortable with my family.

I used to be nervous on the baseball field to impress my dad, or be the most respectful kid so my mom would be proud.

Now I have my own expectations of myself. If I’m going to fail anybody, it’s me.

For parents who are going through a rough patch with their spouse or children, my advice is to leave the kids out of it and don’t use them as a weapon in your own relationship.

It may be hard to understand at the time, but all it takes is one bad memory for a kid to change the way he or she sees life.

Like, for example, being in the middle of a screaming match between parents you adore, seeing phones be broken against the wall or being told awful things about the people you love, from the people you love.

This can cause a child to minimize the value of love, to be confused about their family, and to second guess whether they are making the right decisions in life, in order to avoid the same situations they faced as a child.

Parents seem to think they have this emotional blanket that covers what they really feel at the moment.

Kids see through that but don’t say anything because we’re told, “You wouldn’t understand” or “It’s just grown-up stuff.”

I first noticed I was different from other kids when I was 9 years old and went out to eat with a friend’s family.

Instead of ordering what I wanted, which I was told to do, I ordered an appetizer, the cheapest thing on the menu.

They asked me what else I wanted and I said nothing, I’ll be fine with this.  

My friend’s dad insisted that I order something from the big menu, and my eyes started to water.

I was conflicted, it felt like shame. I didn’t know how to react since I was trying not to spend their money, but I didn’t want to be rude and say no.  

I went home and my mom could tell I was upset.

She asked me what was wrong and I had no response for her, all I could focus on was what I could have said to not look like a needy kid.

Fast forward to my senior year of high school, when I was taken out to breakfast by a coach who wanted me play baseball at his college.

The waitress came by to take our order and I asked for a coffee.

The coach looked at me with a confused smirk and said, “It’s on me, get whatever you want.”

I smiled back and told him, “I’ve eaten here before, I’m here to talk about the baseball program.”

I saw through the routine he had done a hundred times before. Buy breakfast or lunch, be a friendly person, promise a playing position that could never be guaranteed anyway, then set the hook.

As I drove away from that breakfast, I was happy. Not because a school wanted me or ’cause I felt good about my character. I was happy because I didn’t care that all I had was coffee, even when he insisted I treat myself.   

I realized that in order for me to be happy, I can’t worry about what would please my parents.

As long as I’m capable of dealing with my own problems and remain unphased by others, I’m happy.

My joy in life doesn’t depend on what others can do for me, but it is centered around my ability to handle the adult stuff without anyone noticing the struggle.

My main goal in life is to have people say, “Trevor’s fine, he can take care of himself.”

Maybe, then, I can be less apathetic.

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Trevor Chaney

Trevor Chaney

Trevor Chaney is a sports and copy editor for MBU Timeline. Chaney is a journalism major with a double minor in broadcast media/marketing. He is from Turlock, California, and a pitcher at Missouri Baptist University. After graduating he plans to freelance write for a sports news outlet while working as a firefighter for Cal-Fire.

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