Magdalena had been overwhelmed with Simon, her 9 year old son, for a couple of weeks now. That night, after speaking with the company nutricionist and despite the fact that cooking wasn't one of her strengths, she had cooked lentils--a dish her son simply detested. And she knew it.
Magdalena was disappointed when Simon failed to appreciate her hard work--Magdalena tended to defrost food, not cook it. After she tried to reason with him for 15 minutes, the boy threw an uncontrollable tantrum. Magdalena dragged him to his corner to calm him down. Simon escaped. Magdalena turned the internet off. Simon switched it back on again. Magdalena called her husband. Simon covered his ears and kept on shouting and running around the room. Magdalena, not knowing what else to do, instictively sat down--or collapsed--on the sofa.
"Simon, look at me, look at me!" said Magdalena, who closed her eyes, put on a face of exaggerated rage, and began to throw cushions about. "I don't want to go to work! I don't want to go to work!"
"Mommy, what's wrong?" Simon stopped jumping on the chairs and shouting that he wouldn't eat lentils even if she tried to make him.
Magdalena answered: "I don't know." And soon after, continued: "I don't want to go to work! I don't want to go to work!"
Simon tried to get into his hissy fit again, but he had to shout louder than his mom and got bored. Magdalena snuggled into the sofa and invited her son over:
"Can you imagine how you'd feel if I got like that every time I didn't want to do something?"
"I don't put on that silly face, I only shout and run so you can't catch me."
"Can you imagine if I did that?"
"Well, Simon, the truth is that we can negotiate a lot of things. I know you don't like lentils, but also that they are essential for you to grow, and you haven't had any beans for over two months. Tonight the lentils aren't negotiable. Come on, I'll heat your plate up and you get to choose dessert.
"Ok," Simon grumbled. "But next time you make lentils, let me know so I'm prepared."
Magdalena had imitated Simon's tantrums before to show him how absurd his attitude was. But in the past, her imitations had been exact copyies of Simon's behavior--not an exaggeration. Simon had felt mocked, and so he'd continued to shout louder.
This time, on the verge of giving in, Magdalena had had a reaction that she didn't have time to analyse. She had imitated her son with over-the-top humour, having fun, not being serious. And that small humourous change allowed Simon to realize how he had acted without feeling humiliated or ashamed. After having had a laugh, he was able to feel like his mother had understood him. He felt that she had, in her own way, legitimized the fact that he didn't like lentils.
According to the point of view of psychoanalyst Maria Soledad Diaz, Magdalena empathized in an almost primitive way with her son. According to the expert, when a mother is overwhelmed and is close to being very emotional, she does not have the time nor the space to find adequate language to contain her son. However, in her path towards empathy, Magdalena had found a language that opened doors: her little performance had a big impact on Simon, and she managed to connect with him. And Simon knows the feeling of being understood. "It's the closest thing to magic I know," says Magdalena". But it wasn't magic. It was empathy. Basic empathy, but empathy nonetheless.
To trust oneself, to identify one's own emotions and let go of them for a moment, helps the magic of empathy occur.