learning to care

There are a few things we are born knowing how to do: breathing, blinking, crying, eating. Caring is not one of these things. Humans are not born knowing how to care. We learn to care. It is often a natural part of development, so natural it is easy for us to forget we learn to care.

Sometimes kids live hard lives, bouncing from home to home. They survive, but at the same time there are many feelings they don’t know because of all the wrong feelings they do know. For successful survival empathy is often shut down. This makes it easier to protect your heart.

Recently I received a note from Hannah. She wrote to me her concern about Jordan. He’s happy when we’re sad or frustrated and he gets sad or mad when we’re happy. It’s a little annoying.

I smiled a small smile reading her note. It was a smile of understanding. We expected this behavior. See, Jordan isn’t the first kid in history to act like this. In fact, he’s not even the first Ayres’ child to act like this.

Time, I wrote back to Hannah, he needs time to learn to trust us. The very best thing we can do is not let Jordan change our moods. We will be happy during happy times and we won’t get more upset when he laughs during frustrating times.

It will get better, I wrote, I promise.

“How do you know?” Hannah asked after reading the note.

“You’re not going to believe this, ” I said. “See, a long time ago we adopted two little girls and both of them would get cheery when others were upset and sad when others were happy.”

Hannah’s mouth dropped open. Her voice was too many octaves too high. “You’re talking about me?” She was indignant. “I acted like Jordan?”

I smiled. “Jordan is a combination of you and Stephanie, but yes, you, Hannah-Bear, had very similar behaviors.”

Her hands on her hips, her head cocked to the side, she was speechless. I hugged her.

“How’d I quit laughing at people and being sad when they were happy?”

“You learned to care.”

She learned to care, just like all of us can learn to care. It takes time, but eventually people can reinstate their empathy. When basic needs are met, kids can begin to learn to care.

“Can you make it go fast for Jordan?” Hannah asked, her voice muffled in my shoulder.

I wish. I don’t have the heart to tell her that learning to care is a journey we are all on. It is easier some days than others. Out loud I said, “It takes time. He’ll have to learn to care.”

“I’m going to pray. God can speed it up,” Hannah said.

Family and prayer and lots and lots of love can support the healing necessary for someone to learn to care. This conversation was just a few days ago. Today Jordan sat with his three siblings and they played. They talked. They laughed. He laughed with them. He offered help when someone was frustrated. He cracked a joke and made them laugh again.

He is learning to care.

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  1. With time, everything will fall into place. I have a feeling you and Hannah will be able to revisit this piece of writing a year or two from now and smile about it.

  2. What a journey your family is on. Jordan is one lucky boy to have landed two caring parents and sisters who care enough to try to understand him.

  3. Ruth, I am so glad you wrote and shared this one. It's a keeper–maybe something for a larger project someday.
    But the more immediate thing is the powerful peek into you as a mom. Your kids are so lucky.

  4. You almost made me cry. True–We are all on a journey of learning to care. I had never thought about that before, and I find myself sometimes frustrated when some don't care. I've never considered that no one has taught them HOW to care…

    Yes, Hannah, God is good to sometimes speed things up–and He ALWAYS answers–and CARES! –What a blessed family that blesses so many! Thank you for sharing your lives! I am touched!

  5. What a miraculous journey that must be to be a part of. It is not an easy journey but to know God allows you to be part of His healing process must be amazing. A life is being transformed. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Trust grows slowly. It requires patience. The honesty of this piece requires trust from your readers- and empathy. When we empower others, we empower ourselves. More power to you for sharing this raw and revealing piece Ruth. I feel privileged.

  7. I imagine Hannah's heart grew during that conversation the way mine did when I read it. What a wise young woman she will grow to be if she is already processing feelings this way.

  8. Time seems to be the magic ingredient in anything worthwhile. I love reading about your family and you as a mom. Thank you for sharing

  9. What a touching slice today! It seems that now Hannah can care for Jordan because she understands the position he is in now. Your children are very lucky to have you! 🙂

  10. This post just brought tears to my eyes! Thank you for sharing this story. I think many people understand when children are confused by a child who reacts differently due to life experiences. However, there are many adults that can also be confused when they come across a child who reacts in a “different” way. We also need to help these adults understand so they can continue to care about these children who need us the most. Thank you for this insight, Ruth!

  11. Oh, Ruth! So glad you can see what is happening and help Hannah see it also. The fact that you could help her relate by connecting it to her own changes will help her allow Jordan some time. I love that she brought prayer in as an answer! That attitude will carry her far!

  12. “Can you make it go fast for Jordan?” – I love Hannah's question. The faster “it goes” for Jordan, the sooner she knows he has come home to you all – to care. Lovely post, Ruth.

  13. That child is so blessed to be surrounded by so much love! Still celebrating the newest Ayres family member with you 🙂

  14. It seems you've done good teaching with the girls, as evidenced by Hannah “caring”. I've been there with my brother's older children. It does take a while, but they do learn, sweet, smart children that they are. Best wishes to you, Ruth. Thanks for sharing this good feeling post!

  15. You remind me of what's important in life when I read your slices. Thank you for telling the story of struggle and success. I am so lucky.