Is there a reason I have difficulty being compassionate toward my family when they make mistakes? I seem to judge them instead of trying to understand what they are going through. How come I can’t show my family the same compassion I show to strangers?
It can be discouraging to notice ourselves treating the people we want to love the most with irritation.
When I ask people the question, “What is the most important thing about you as a person,” I typically get the same response, though stated in different ways. The most common answer is an expressed desire to be compassionate and loving towards others. Most of us want to be remembered as someone who sincerely cared for our loved ones.
While acts of thoughtfulness toward strangers are important and often in short supply, my observation is that we rarely need to look much further than our own families to find individuals who are in desperate need of our comfort and compassion.
I think of family life as the ideal laboratory where the qualities of compassion and love are best developed. Our relationships with our family members provide the real test to see how well we’ve developed these qualities.
It can be hard to live in a family. Often, we are surrounded by family members who are so offensive in their asking that we hold back for fear of being exploited. It seems there is never an end to petitions for understanding, thoughtfulness, patience, and other responses that don’t come to us very naturally.
This is exactly why family life is the perfect place to practice these attributes. We’ll never run out of interactions that produce irritation and stress. Where else will we face the constant demand to become our best selves? We simply won’t have these regular soul-grinding challenges with any other group of people.
Additionally, living in a family requires us to be available for the needs of others when it’s least convenient for us. Strangers often understand that we will assist them when it works best for our schedules. However, family members require us to address needs when we least feel like it.
Family life scholars Howard and Kathleen Bahr observed: “[family member’s] needs are inconvenient; they are not ordered according to an eight-hour day divided by coffee and lunch breaks.”
These invitations for growth usually show up in ordinary interactions. For example, we may have a child who has difficulty concentrating, a spouse who doesn’t like physical touch, a brother who is always interrupting, a parent who never calls to check-in, a child who keeps making the same mistakes, a spouse who races to make decisions without input, and so on.
If you feel annoyed and irritated with a family member, take the challenge to ask yourself what this family member may be trying to teach you about yourself. Try to think of irritations as invitations for connection and growth.
Seek to discover how this family member is perfectly designed to help you grow as an individual. Ask yourself how you can more gladly welcome the challenges that family life offers. Your willingness to accept these challenges will not only benefit you, but also those you desire to love the most.