Sunday, October 9, 2011

Healthy sadness

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.


  1. Oh Julia, you break my heart!

    We are so lucky to know you and your family and we'll miss you all terribly. We've learned so much from you and have cherished being friends and neighbors.

    Leslie, Seamus's mom

  2. Julia, I think there are layers of sadness in each life, don't you?
    Not making the cheerleading squad, having friends move out of
    your life etc. is a different layer of sadness from death of a spouse or
    loss of a child.


  3. Shirley,
    Yes, very much so. I think that's why it's important to let kids go through lesser sadnesses with little parental interference. Because kids need to know that disappointment and sorrow are survivable. Uncomfortable or miserable, perhaps, but survivable.


  4. When a friend of mine was killed in an accident, my mother prefaced the news by saying, "We're going to have to hold onto our faith now..." Then she told me.

    I didn't even have any faith of my own yet, but knowing my mother had something that could carry her through such sadness helped me find my own way. And, eventually, my own faith.