There’s no pain for a parent quite like the pain of watching your child go through hard times. Whether it’s a physical injury, a broken heart, a crisis of confidence or a crippling fear, most parents I know would gladly shoulder their child’s struggle to save them from pain. I remember well when my daughter Amelia needed to get glasses for the first time. She was two years old and her eyes started crossing from time to time. The ophthalmologist prescribed eyeglasses to be worn all day every day. How grateful I was that there was a solution to her difficulty! But at the same time I struggled mightily to accept that my daughter needed any kind of alteration—she already seemed so utterly perfect to me. I didn’t want her to have to go through anything that might be a burden, from mere inconvenience to the possibility of lifelong deficits in vision or eye function. I was troubled, upset, and sometimes even angry. Other moments when she or her siblings struggled with learning to talk, adjusting to school, or mastering a difficult skill I shared in their turmoil each time.
I’ve learned along this parenting road that there are some ways to guard our hearts against the inevitable pain that comes with bearing a hurt on behalf of the kids we so long to protect. Resisting or avoiding the pain often backfires, but learning to use it for growth can pay off. Here are a few gems I’ve learned to hold on to when times get tough:
Hardship helps us appreciate the good
My daughters are learning some hard lessons about friendship this year at school. There is a young girl in their class who seems quite practiced in the art of using friendship as a control mechanism. One day she is their best friend, the next she doesn’t want anything to do with them. She loves to play with them at recess, until they want to invite another kids she doesn’t like to join the game. Then it’s her way or the highway. While I am disappointed to see this kind of manipulation show up in second grade, her antics have given me ample opportunity to talk with my girls about what true friendship looks like, how I expect them to respond to such power plays, and how they can use the pain of this experience to help them be good friends themselves. It also has helped my girls to appreciate the peers in their lives who exhibit genuine friendship and to understand the importance of seeking out friends they can trust. Contrast is a powerful thing—when the bad shows up in your children’s lives, use it to help them appreciate all that is good.
Pain grows empathy, which may be instrumental in our children finding purpose
I don’t know of anyone who purposely seeks out pain or difficulty, but I do know that such experiences are ripe opportunities for the growth of empathy and compassion for others who struggle. Nick Vujicic is an inspirational man who was born with no arms or legs. He struggled through depression as a young man, but eventually came to realize that his own victories through trial were an inspiration and encouragement to others going through all kinds of difficulties. He now speaks around the world, helping people find hope through hardship. It’s easy to feel consumed by the challenges our kids face, but if we help them see how those challenges can help them reach out to others we give them an opportunity to find true meaning and deep satisfaction.
Lessons learned at a young age ease the journey to adulthood
We all experience hardship in life. We all experience pain, loss, and disappointment. I would much prefer my kids learn to cope with pain, loss, and disappointment under my guidance and protection than find their first taste of it as an adult. Their childhood is when we get to help our kids learn resilience, problem solving skills, and perseverance. It’s that struggle with spelling in third grade that sets the stage for muscling through Organic chemistry as an undergrad pre-med student. It’s pushing through anxiety about riding the school bus each day as a Kindergartener that helps our kids build the fortitude to face their fear of public speaking or starting a business as an adult. Each time our kids face a challenge and live to tell a tale of victory they are cultivating vital skills that will guide them to victory as adults. And we get to be there to guide them through it, encourage them each agonizing step of the way, and celebrate with them when they triumph.
It’s never easy to see our kids go through hard things. But if we remember that our job is not to shield them from trials but to teach them to successfully navigate their way through, we can begin to see challenges as blessings. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” (James 1:2) Perhaps when we begin to see perseverance, rather than ease, as the good worth pursuing, we’ll be taking one small step in the right direction.