Practicing Empathy Using The Bubble Method

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Okay ladies, bear with me here: I want to introduce an idea to you that I had the other day as a way to help myself be more empathetic and patient with another mom when my first instinct was to judge and complain about her. I call it The Bubble Method. If you’re finding it hard lately to give the benefit of the doubt to another mother, if you’re falling into the trap of mom shaming (we all have), give the Bubble Method a chance to pull you out of it. This is how it goes:

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1) Sit down and make a list of everything that’s currently going on in your life right now—in your “bubble.” These are events that are happening, things stressing you out, joyous occasions, your successes, what parts you have to play in your husband and kids’ lives, and your failures. Basically, everything good and bad going on that distracts you and makes you focus on yourself.

My list looked like this (excluding some very personal parts for the purpose of this article):
Work—3 jobs, SAHM, the nightly dinner struggle, financial worries, supporting husband’s side start up job, finding a preschool for daughter, deciding on baby #3, church duties, PPD, antidepressants plus their cost, etc.

2) Now that you have listed all your worries, fears, distractions, and successes, choose someone specific in your life that has been testing you or bothering you. For example, that mother who annoys you with her millions of posts in your Facebook mom group because she never seems to know what she’s doing. Or that mother who seems to always have an opinion and who makes you feel small for the differing one that you hold. Or the mother in your neighborhood who shamed you for letting your kid wear shorts on a snowy day. Choose someone who your first impression was to judge, dislike or shame her.

3) Try to list everything that you know is going on in her bubble.

For example, “Susan” down the street who told me my kids must watch too much TV so I can sit on my phone all day. I would list everything I knew about Susan:
She has two dogs she walks every day, she has no children that I know of, her husband died two years ago, she works at the library, she makes me feel insecure about my parenting, etc.

List them as facts, not guesses or judgments. It’s interesting how, as you begin listing what you know of others, you catch little things you didn’t take time to think about before. You also begin giving the benefit of the doubt.

In my example, Susan doesn’t have kids so she doesn’t really qualify to judge how much TV my kids watch or for what reason. I shouldn’t let her comments hurt me. And maybe she goes for walks every day with her dogs because she is lonely and needs to get out of the house but doesn’t know how to interact with her neighbors who are in a different walk of life. Or she works at the library, so maybe next time I see her, instead of avoiding her, I can ask her what books the kids seem to love the most and get a recommendation.

4) Once you run out of what you know, list the things that might be going on in her bubble.

For my Susan example, what might be in her bubble?
Debt? Dating problems? Estranged from her mother or sister? Considering a big move across the country? Looking for a different job? Self esteem problems? (What woman doesn’t have a least a little of those?)

My assumptions of what might be happening in her circle could be based on little things I saw or picked up in conversations, or they could just be random things pulled out of the blue that are hard. None of us ever know what’s really going on with someone else’s emotions and behind closed doors. What if she is struggling with Anxiety, my kids are a trigger, and that could be why she lashes out at my parenting?

But we don’t need to know for sure. We don’t need to be privy to another mother’s every struggle in order to give compassion, empathy and the benefit of the doubt. By making your list of what is and could be going on in her Bubble that is distracting her, you’re actively deciding to pay attention to someone other than yourself. And when you take your mind frame away from your own troubles for a moment, you’re more willing and able to serve, help, listen, and create a friendship that might not have happened before.

5) Actively choose to give the benefit of the doubt. You took the time to try and understand this mother who judged you or hurt you. Now what are you going to do about it?

Us editors can write a million articles and lecture you on why you shouldn’t judge other moms. But what good does that do? Who reads those types of articles anyways? We need a TOOL. A how. A way we can act, instead of just talk, to start having more empathy. That’s where this Bubble Method to gain more empathy comes in. I’m no psychologist so I want it to be clear that this is just an exercise idea I had one day that helped me have more compassion for another mother. And it helped my husband and I as a tool to strengthen our marriage as well.

I encourage you to try making these lists. Analyze what’s happening in your bubble that might be making you less patient or easily offended when a mother on the playground gives you the side eye. Analyze what might be in her bubble that’s making her less patient with you. And then forgive yourself. Forgive her. Move on. Choose empathy.

If you’ve tried the Bubble Method, please share with us what you thought of it and how it helped you (if it did).

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Heather lives with her husband, daughter and son and has learned to accept that Utah is now her permanent home. Before becoming a stay at home mom, she taught elementary school and loves to use that background to create fun activities to entertain her children. Though staying home with the kids is great, Heather has always enjoyed finding more ways she can keep herself sane, including elaborate cross stitch designs and playing with any puppy she can find. She particularly loves to read and write and prides herself in always remaining honest in her posts about life as a wife and mother, even when the truth is sometimes embarrassing.

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