Sunday, September 19, 2010

When you can't make things better for your child

Snuggler has been struggling with her emotions lately. The loss (to college) of her beloved big sister, the pending loss (to a residential psych placement) of her I-adore-and-hate-him big brother, and the temporary loss (to a business trip) of her dad has her suddenly bursting into wrenching sobs, several times a day.

I try to remember that empathy is the key, though it's hard to stop applying emotional bandaids when you're a mom. When a child is hurting, whether it's from a bully or a broken friendship or a jerk of a teacher, I want to make things better. And sometimes I can't.

I can hold my sad child and say things like "Oh, that's a hard feeling to have!" and "Sometimes when I'm sad I feel like I have a big hole inside. Do you sometimes feel like that?"

I can stroke her curly hair and say, "Go ahead and cry. This is worth crying about."

I can reassure her, "This is a hard time, a very hard time. But we can work through it," and "I know this feels like an endless sadness, but deep down you have strength you don't know about yet, and it will help you get through."

I can teach her how to pray and explain what our faith teaches about suffering. But I can't fix the pain. No matter how much I want to, I can't make the hurt go away.

And I'm finally grasping that that's okay. My job as Snuggler's mother isn't to make her world perfect, but to teach her how to live in an imperfect world. I reduce the pain where I can, but my real role is to teach her healthy coping skills for dealing with the pains of life.

There's not always an answer or solution to pain. As an adult I know that there are times when muddling through -- doing the best you can when you don't know what you're doing -- counts as success. I wish I didn't have to see my daughter struggle, but it's better that she should struggle where I can guide her and help her than that she doesn't learn how to do this before I send her out into the world. Because I can pretty much guarantee that at some point in her life she will struggle.

We eventually get through just about everything, more or less. The way we go about it, the kind of person we want to be, and what we do with the experience is what makes the difference between more and less. That's where my role as a mom comes in.

Well, that and making blueberry pancakes for breakfast. Which helps, just a little.


  1. Seeing my kid hurt, and not being able to fix it, is probably the hardest thing I've experienced in my life. But I think you're right: they have to learn to suffer, and to learn that there's something better once they get through it to the other side. Here's to pancakes, and lime fizzes, and hot fudge sundaes, and the rest of the comfort foods.

  2. Our hearts go out to you and your family.

  3. ' there isn't always a solution to pain ' this is SO true, so beautifully loving, and so very hard to live as a parent. I have the hardest time allowing my children the space to feel pain- not anger, or frustration, or sadness, but real pain.

    Even though what kind of people would they, or anyone be, if they could not experience it and not be afraid of it?

    I hope your little feels hers and moves on. She's lucky to have you.