I told Little Guy that his buddy Seamus is moving to California. My seven year old cried most of the evening. He'd calm down for a bit and then I'd find him curled in a ball on the floor somewhere, sobbing silently. And then he'd cry loudly all over again.
Our family likes Seamus a lot. He's Snuggler's age (she cried, too) and lives downstairs, and is homeschooled, and plays soccer. Seamus has more energy than half a dozen kids put together. He's the one who teamed up with mine to make the casino in the lobby. The one who took my kids to mini-golf. The one who calls to ask if Snuggler and Little Guy can come down to the basement, where they play for hours. We are going to miss him badly.
Last night as I alternately comforted Little Guy and let him find his own solace I thought about how helpful it is, parenting-wise, to be in a situation where I could not fix things. It forced me to set aside all my make-it-better impulses and let my son face sadness and come through it.
That instinct to shield our kids from pain... well, it's not always right. Sometimes the real issue is that we are pained by seeing them suffer. Or we don't like feeling helpless.
And yet loss is a reality of life. The world isn't always going to be pretty and comfortable for our kids. We're not going to be there to buffer the bad news every time. So while it's sensible to leave out the gory details of death or the nasty bits about divorce, it's not necessary (or even healthy) to see ourselves as responsible for shielding our kids from ever experiencing sadness.
We're not going to make our children better able to cope with the future by protecting them from every pain of the present. But since it's hard to gauge when to intervene and when to abstain, lately I've been asking myself, How long will it take them to rebound? If the answer is a day or a week, I let them hurt. And I comfort them.