Parents can't fix everything - no matter how hard we try, or how much we want to!
There have been a number of experiences in our home that have brought this reality to a very real place for me as a mom. Aren't we supposed to 'make everything better' and be able to fix things for our kids? Sorry - simply not always possible, but I think that might actually be a good thing.
The other day my children watched in terror as an adult mistreated his dog. My daughter's frantic voice called out to me and my husband, as she bursted through the front door- shock, anger and hurt all over her face "Can I tell you the worst thing ever?" And this was followed by a detailed description, from my animal-loving 7-year-old, of a man yanking his dog by the collar, "so hard he was up on his two back feet and then pushing his face to the ground."
Both my son and daughter admitted (and then apologized) to yelling across the street "seriously mister" and "hey take care of your dog.''
It pained me to remind them that it was not their place to tell an adult what to do, and that it's just not right to yell at people, especially adults -but- it was 'really not right' (??) what that adult was doing to his dog.
My kids were right. We have taught them to show kindness to all living things. But it was wrong to yell at the adult. Or was it?
We all sat with the confusion of the moral dilemma that had just entered our home. And just when I started to grasp at fixing the problem, I remembered my own words "Equip them.. don't fix them."
And with that, I simply landed on, "I'm so sorry you had to see that."
This led into a long conversation about how even adults make bad decisions sometimes. Adults make mistakes too. And although we need to stand-up for others (including our four-legged friends), their is a way to do it with kindness and compassion.
The kids took the conversation from here and remembered times when they heard someone swear, or an adult was rude to a teenager working in a store. It was both beautiful and humbling to see their eyes opening to the world around them, within the safeness and love of our home. And it heartwarming to hear them experience this new truth - adults make mistakes too.
So in that day, a painful moment- that I could neither fix nor erase- evolved into a conversation that was open, honest and hopefully more impactful than that image of an adults mistake on their walk home.
It's how we process these moments with our kids that define them.
Rather than feeling badly (or worse, guilty, such an awful word!) that we couldn't prevent these experiences, see them as an opportunity to teach, support, talk and experience the world with your children. Too many parents get caught up thinking they need to protect their children from the bumps & bruises along the way, but that's life.
We need to equip our children with an open and accepting mind, critical thinking skills and the confidence to speak up and stand up for what they feel strongly about.
A child's feelings, even the messy ones like sadness, pain, anger, loss, rejection or loneliness are all an opportunity for connection.
Acknowledging your child's feelings and experiences, rather than sweeping them away, allows your child to experience them and then learn from them.
"You are really sad for that dog you saw." A simple statement to reflect my daughters feelings back to her, allowed her to process her emotions and get them out. We moved through her sadness and anger and problem-solved about what she could do next time, and how she could make choices to protect and care for animals.
"You don't need to worry about someone else's dog." or "I'm sure it wasn't as bad as you think." In an attempt to minimize the feeling being experienced by a child, these statements actually discount their feelings and close the door to conversation. Children are left with confusion, and big emotions to handle all on their own, when parents try and deflect and protect. If we fail to acknowledge and accept our children's feelings we give them the message that their feelings are not ok, or not right. My kids have heard, more times than they would care to admit, "your feelings are never wrong, but how you handle them can sometimes be wrong."
A child's feelings are never wrong. Their feelings are their experiences of the world around them.
Today it's a skinned knee or being excluded by friends, soon it will be their first broken heart, a failed job interview, or not getting into the school/program they applied for - the hurts get bigger!! We can't fix them all, but we can equip them to handle them all.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jenn is a Child & Family Therapist for the Counting Butterflies Wellness Tribe. With over twenty years of professional experience in Child & Family Mental Health, Jenn is skilled at joining and navigating families to grow and thrive. Her specializations include Play & Attachment-Based Therapy, and is passionate about supporting the social-emotional needs of children aged pre-school through early teenage-hood. Visit Jenn's virtual home here.