small heart

I don’t understand. And that needs to be OK

Note: I’ve been working through my thoughts around understanding, empathy and love. I’m sharing as a way to work to practice talking about love without understanding, but it remains very uncomfortable.


As I stared at the blank screen trying to write, I heard the words of the song playing on ds106radio, “It’s better for me if you don’t understand.”


I live with teenagers. Each on their own journey, with their own struggles. And while my heart breaks for each of them as they struggle, in most ways I cannot empathize with them. What do I know about being a young Indigenous man or being a young girl growing up without a dad? Or “going” to Zoom university? Or whatever? I live adjacent to these realities, but I will never fully understand them.

And that needs to be OK.

My middle child has now come out as gender neutral, and if I’m being completely honest, I don’t really understand what that means. Gender fluidity, if that’s even the right term, hurts my binary-trained brain. They prefer “they”, but “she” is OK. Sometimes. I get it wrong and often ask, “Did I get that right?” “Not quite,” they respond, “but it’s closer.” Or “I know you’re trying.”

The other day I picked them up and said, “Hi girlie!” and then, “Whoops. Is that OK?” I was ready to apologize and correct.

“Yup,” they said, “girlie is fine.” Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

I turned to them and said, “You know I don’t understand the rules, right? Are there even rules?”

“Yup, there are rules. You just don’t understand them.”

“No, no I don’t.” We laughed together. I keep trying to get it right; they keep correcting.

And that needs to be OK.

Because for as much as I cannot understand my kids’ experiences, I have and would again put myself between them and anyone trying to harm them. I will fight for them to have the space to become their own selves. I teach them how to stand up for themselves and how to choose their battles. We talk about residential schools and culture, both what’s been lost and what’s remembered. We talk about gender and race.  They make fun of my white woman-ness and I do my best to own it all. We talk about politics and power. I answer their questions, including the uncomfortable ones. We practice talking about how we are feeling and respecting the feelings of others. I have done everything possible what I can to equip them. Because I love them.

There was a time that I probably would have tried harder to understand, to empathize. In more recent times, I would have felt tremendous guilt for not trying harder to understand.

Now that I might be closer to abandonning the idea of empathy altogether, I walk around the house saying, “Remember, I am not a good mind reader” and “What do you need from me?” and “I love you.” (Seeing this written here, feels terribly cold.)

So, although I’m not yet fully comfortable saying it yet, I think maybe that needs to be OK too. I’m working on it.


2 thoughts to “I don’t understand. And that needs to be OK”

  1. Much appreciation for you continuing to be one of the most honest reflective bloggers. I am trying to refrain from cliches like the good stuff is never easy.

    I firmly believe young adults like yours are way braver and also more prepared for the world than I was. Empathy seems like a distant horizon we pursue, we see it fully, but never truly get there. We can only keep trying.

    Keep on.

    1. Thank you Alan! That really means a lot, especially in a time where my “people circle” is so very small. I hope Saskatchewan continues to treat you well.

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