Watching Your Children Suffer by Leta Hamilton
My husband is reading, of all things, a history of the Donner Party (The Indifferent Stars Above by Daniel James Brown for history buffs reading this). I seem to keep picking up this book and reading random passages of unspeakable horror. It has, to say the least, solidified my appreciation of food. What I find particularly hard to fathom is the heartbreak it must have caused those mothers to watch their children slowly fading away before their eyes. And yet, only yesterday, I was faced with a heart break of my own when my 7-year son sobbed uncontrollably after a particularly tough week at school. There is no bully involved, nothing tangible per se to which I can point a finger or in any way “fix.” If only it were that simple. No, it is just a case of a little boy trying to find his way in a big, confusing, world where friendships and school work are not as always as easy as he would like them to be.
As mothers, we will all face moments when we must watch helplessly while our children suffer. Our mothers, no doubt, did the same with us and perhaps it is something that largely went unnoticed. I know my son has no idea how much his tears yesterday have affected me – resulting in no shortage of my own tears and a blog post to boot! If we cannot solve all of our children’s problems, nor do I believe we are really meant to, what can we do when we see our children in pain for which there is no answer?
For me, all that I could offer my son in that moment was the space for him to release his pent up frustrations and obvious sorrow over the difficulty he was facing with the challenges of second grade. Then I was able to go one step further and provide reassurance of my acceptance and unconditional love for him. This may not have been totally satisfactory, but it was enough to see him through the tears and into the evening as a happy 7-year old, safe in the comfort of home. With him finally settled, I did some soul-searching of my own.
Did I have the strength to let him be sad and go through this knowing that part of his journey is to navigate the stormy seas of second grade? My experience of second grade was pretty good. I met my best friend in second grade and she is still my best friend to this day. I don’t remember having much difficulty with school work, but I am not my son and he is not me! I must accept that his experience of life will be unique to his spirit. I do not have to judge what he is currently going through as either good or bad. All I have to do is hold the space for him to communicate his feelings in a safe environment, do what I can when and where it makes sense (like picking him up from school from now on instead of making him ride the bus home) and offer him unconditional love and authentic acceptance for who he is now in the world.
Apart from that, I can continue to do the soul searching I am called upon to do as pain and sorrow arise in my own life experience. I am always and in all ways a role model to my children. They see so much more in my actions than they hear through my words. The women of the Donner party had to find the strength within them to use the meat of their fellow travelers to keep their children alive. I, thank God, do not have to make such a choice. However, as my heart breaks and will no doubt continue to break, over the suffering of my four sons as they become men, I will also have choices to make about how I respond to that suffering. Sometimes it takes the greatest strength of all to do nothing, to let your child pass through a storm and into greater understanding on the other side. All the while, how can I break free of my own chains? With fewer burdens, my soul is free to soar. Now especially, while they are so young, I have the chance to carry them to the mountaintops of personal responsibility and true authenticity.