Walking A Child Through Heartbreak – Posted by Sarah Anderson

Going back to my parents’ house is like going through a time warp. My old bedroom is exactly how I left it when I graduated high school. This past Christmas, while visiting, I came across an old journal. I picked up at the start of my Senior year, Homecoming was just around the corner, and pages were filled with schemes of how to plan the perfect night with all my best friends. Of course, there was One Guy in particular involved in this dreaming.

But then came the inevitable entry:

“This Guy asked someone else…who couldn’t go. So he asked another girl, who also couldn’t go. And then he asked a third girl. And they went.”

I didn’t even make the top three. And the reality of the deathblow this was to my pride finally hit me. I wasn’t going to my Senior Homecoming.

Reading over it again, I remembered exactly what it felt like to think I would always feel this way. That I would never recover. That this wasn’t mere teenage drama, this was a genuine life-altering tragedy.

My 17-year-old self could never imagine my 35-year-old self married to the love of my life. Or the two little boys who laugh, play, and love with such gusto that they inhabit every inch of space in my heart.

In that journal, in those moments, the hurt was consuming. The good news? I was surrounded by people who didn’t try to tell me otherwise. Who weren’t hell-bent on trying to point out silver linings and long term perspective. Who weren’t trying to fix things for me, but were determined to feel things with me.

I had parents who let me feel the way I did, knowing I wouldn’t always feel that way. They knew teenage drama doesn’t last forever—but the emotions in the midst of it aren’t any less real at the time you are experiencing them. They knew time tempers all of it—because time heals all wounds after all. But it takes time to know that.

Reading the journal entries of 17-year-old me, I was reminded that emotions tend to operate in a vacuum. In the moment of hurt and pain and anxiety, we are incapable of seeing the big picture. In the instances from childhood that feel like they will define us and shape us forever, the truth—that they won’t—is a balm we are incapable of receiving. And that’s okay. 

Perspective is a skill, only time, enables us to develop. And when you are a kid, it is a luxury you don’t have. So as parents, when we willingly come alongside our children anyway, and show compassion in spite of knowing more and knowing better, we’re offering them an unparalleled gift.

Because, as it turns out, our kids need far fewer fixers in their lives and far more feelers.

Parents who, even knowing the bigger picture, stoop down into the smaller one. Who step into the emotion, the angst, the drama and bear it on their own shoulders, certain, though their heartbroken children can’t yet see it, that “this too shall pass”.

So what do you do when your child’s heart breaks—from a relationship (or lack of one) from a disappointment, fear or failure?

You let them feel it. Because the only way to the other side is through.

You walk with them. But don’t rush them.

You believe the best is yet to come, but you don’t tell them that, because they may not be ready to hear it yet. (That’s okay. Your belief is enough for the both of you.)

You let them feel like their world is falling apart, and then you stick around long enough to pick up the pieces of their world, with them, when it does.

You parent them in the most agonizing way possible—by feeling alongside them while not being able to fix it for them.

You survive it. Together.

And someday, nearly twenty years later, you may find you were right—something that surprises you both. Life does go on. You hoped it was true, for their sake, but now you are sure of it.

I like having reminders when I go back to the house I grew up in that, though it appears time has stood still, it hasn’t. Reminders that, as I walk my kids through heartache, the best way to help them through it is to be present in the emotions and drama when they are happening. To be allowed to experience them, and then let time do its thing as it moves forward. And takes us with it. And somehow heals us in the process.

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