Ping. I looked over to my phone alerting of me a new text. In an instant, the peace of sitting alone at the table after a long day was disrupted once again.
The message was from the same child I had already sat with earlier in the day as another mom and I sought to help our kids resolve conflict. The outcome reinforced what I tell my kids about why living redemptively is worth the work! But now more drama already?!? Only an hour ago one of my other kids had a meltdown in the car. And these are not toddlers I’m talking about, but my teenage kids.
My only other child is relatively drama-free. It’s tempting to think children like him make for easier parenting, but I really don’t think that’s true either. The thing with the unemotional, unexpressive ones is you never know what’s going on inside their heads. At least with the two expressive ones I usually know how they feel.
But whether our kids keep their feelings bottled up or every little thing is cause for drama, as a parent there is no way to remain unaffected by their emotions (or lack thereof), especially when it comes to their suffering and trials. When they hurt, we hurt. When we can’t fix their hurts, it hurts worse. When their hurt lasts, it takes great emotional toll on us.
So how do we walk well with them through their suffering that also becomes ours? How do we navigate not knowing how to help, or not being able to change their circumstances?
First and foremost, we navigate by God’s grace and lots of prayer. I don’t mean that as cliché. I say it because there is nothing like parenting through the valleys to show us so clearly our need for wisdom and strength outside of ourselves.
Our tendency is to want to rescue, but the more we try to control and fix what we can’t control or fix, the more we heap pressure onto our kids that they need to act or feel or be better. In other words, we are inadvertently telling them that not being okay is not okay, so they need to get past what they are dealing with. When we respond this way instead of pointing them to find rest in Jesus in all seasons, we lead them to feeling shame over their emotions. Or, we push them further into stuffing their emotions in order to feign being okay.
As a parent, I know that being indefinitely unable to help our child is hard. We don’t like seeing anyone in a perpetual state of suffering, sadness, or depression. In our culture today, there isn’t much room for allowing people to stay in such conditions. Yet because there are often no immediate answers, and circumstances aren’t likely to change overnight, one of the best things we can do for our child in the midst of trials is to not try to hurry the hurt.
We mean well when we try to rush them back to happy, but in thinking about why we do this, isn’t it in part because we don’t want or don’t know how to cope with pain ourselves?
But maybe living out of our brokenness and need is just where God wants us, and our child.
What if His goodness to us requires coming to the end of ourselves? What if living as light means staying in darkness, temporarily? Can we live there?
By God’s grace we will learn to be content even in hard seasons. We will stop trying to control and instead just enter in. One of the ways we can walk well with our children in their suffering is simply to identify with them. After all, we know what it’s like to feel sad, lonely, mistreated, misunderstood, overwhelmed, and disappointed. So let’s just get in the boat and sit in it with them for however long it takes so they know they aren’t alone and that we understand.
At the same time let’s keep directing them to the One who knows and identifies with us perfectly in all these things. Jesus is the One who came in flesh to experience all that we do, so He could get in the boat and enter in with us as our Savior-friend.
May we learn through suffering more of what it looks like to depend on Him for all things.
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Philippians 2:5-8
“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:14-16