When we can’t fix everything for our children

When my youngest child was a toddler, she could not fall asleep if I was not right next to her, holding her hand. “Hold hands?” she’d ask and her chubby little fingers would grasp mine. It’s been years since she has needed my help to fall asleep. She’s almost a teenager now and she’s capable of falling asleep on her own, sometimes with the help of Netflix on her Kindle. Two nights ago, that changed. For the past several months, she has been going through some things in her personal life that no child her age should have to face. She had received some devastating news that changed her almost immediately. This news, combined with the unexpected loss of one of her pets and some bullying issues at school, really sent her into a depression. Several times, she confided in me that she hated her life and admitted that she didn’t think she could get through any of this. Most of it, I could help her with because I had my own personal experiences that I could share with her. But there were some things that even I, as an adult, struggled to cope with and understand. I felt helpless. My little girl’s heart was breaking and I couldn’t fix it.

In spite of her feeling as if she couldn’t get through this, she did. We’re lucky to have some very supportive family members and friends who were able to support us both. Things were really looking up for a while but then she had a setback. The situation that she is facing seemed to be improving but now it’s not. It looked as though things may be getting better but now it looks like things are getting worse. Back to two nights ago, my daughter had withdrawn again. Anyone who has lived with a pre-teen knows how hard it is to get them to clean their room and do their chores, but she threw herself into all of it, in desperate need of the distraction. She cleaned her room, her closet…she even hand-washed some pots and pans. I gave her the space she needed to process what was happening, knowing that she would come to me when she was ready. And she did. As I was making dinner, she came downstairs, threw her arms around me and said “I can’t do this.” I tried to explain to her that we never really know how strong we are until our strength is tested. I promised her that she could do it. Later that night, I let her sleep in my room. After listening to her toss and turn, I asked her if she was okay. She shook her head and said “I’m not. There’s just too much stress on my mind and pain in my heart.”

And, once again, I found myself holding her hand so she could fall asleep. It took me back to those nights when she was still so little, curled up under her “Princess” blanket and clutching her Elmo doll. Those chubby fingers are now long and thin and tipped with hot pink nail polish. Back then, she was half my height; now, she’s just a few inches shorter. She’s grown so much yet she’s been my baby this whole time. So much has changed. Back then, I could fix everything so easily. A kiss, a Band-Aid, a juice box, maybe some Children’s Tylenol and a nap. But now I don’t know what to do. The mom in me still wants to fix everything. Even with my son, her big brother, who is a few years into adulthood, I want to fix his problems too and I can’t.

Not being able to heal our children’s wounds is one of the worst feelings in the world. We want to take their pain and make it our own, absorb it deep into our own core until it’s so far away from them that they are left without a single trace of it. I would take it all if I could. And I know I have room for it because I can feel the hole in my heart where I could keep it. I don’t know what to do, I don’t know what to say, so all I can do is just try my best and hope that it helps and that’s what I’ve been doing for both of them. Like my son keeps reminding me, sometimes I have to let go and let him figure it out. “It’ll be fine, Mom,” he tells me. I hope he’s right. “I’m lucky I have such a strong mom to show me how to be strong,” my daughter said to me the other night. They are such amazing kids and I have faith in them. I just hope that they have faith in themselves too.

Every time I turn to my family and my friends for support, someone always tells me “Your kids are lucky to have a mom like you.” But I’m the one who is lucky to have kids like them.

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