My daughter, Annie, recently started 1st grade and it is has not gone the way she planned. The day before school started, she spent nearly an hour applying her fake Lisa Frank press-on nails, getting her hair fixed and picking out the perfect outfit in order to go to the school and find out what teacher she was assigned to and which friends from Kindergarten would be in her new class. Of course she knew which teacher and friends she would get, because she spent all summer praying for them and asking her grandparents to join in the effort. Since her grandparents are all pastors and expert prayer warriors, there was no doubt in her mind about the outcome. We drove to the school and she was giddy with excitement until we saw the list. Not only did she not get the teacher she wanted or a single friend in her class, all her friends were paired up together in other classes. Her heart crumpled in front of the red school door and tears began to slide down her cheeks. Once we got home, she asked for alone time in her room and cried the rest of the day. She was heartbroken and so was I.
Watching our babies endure grief and pain is the hardest part of being a mom. And it doesn’t get any easier with age! At least that’s what my mom would say after she stood by my sister’s side this year and helped her through the labor and delivery of her twin daughters that passed away shortly after birth. This mother thing will expand your heart larger than you knew was possible and rip it out just as quickly.
As we watch our babies grieve—whether that is grieving the loss of their own babies or not getting into the 1st Grade class they hoped for, there are tools we can implement to help our children process through loss. These are just a few.
First, it’s ok to acknowledge to our children that life isn’t always fair and some situations are just plain crummy! As we drove home from school, I knew at some point I would need to tell Annie about all the good things that might happen in this unexpected class. But the car ride home wasn’t that time. First, she needed space to grieve and be sad and I wanted to give her that gift. So I simply said, “I know this is such a bummer for you. I know it doesn’t feel fair and I am so sorry.” And I cried with her.
I can tell her about all the good that might come from this unwanted situation later, but initially, she needs time and space to feel the loss and grieve. Allowing our kids the gift of grief allows them to process through theirs hurts and enables them to put it behind them so they can move forward. Grieving with them lets them know they are not alone and are deeply cared for.
Next, as we walk with our kiddos through grief, it is tempting to want to “fix” the problem, but in doing so, we often rob them of the opportunity to be brave, resilient and courageous. While Annie’s heart might be broken over this class, I don’t have a valid reason for asking that she be moved to another class. Doing so might teach her that she doesn’t have to do the hard work of making new friends or overcoming life’s disappointments. As it stands, she is walking into a new class each day and using all her bravery and courage to do so. We remind her every time she makes a new friend, has a new conversation, or walks into this class she never wanted, that she is being brave and courageous and we are SO proud of her for trying. She is proud of herself too. Now she knows she can do hard things. Just because we moms have the power to fix difficult situations for our children, doesn’t mean we always should. Sometimes the best gift we can give our children is simply walking alongside them, cheering them on as they do hard things.
Finally, Annie and I lay in bed each night and throw-up our problems to God! We started this tradition when she was four-years-old and anxious. I told her God says to cast our cares upon Him and he will take them from us and replace them with peace. The first time I asked her if she had any worries to give God, her list was exhaustive. We took those worries and imagined putting them into our hands, and then, as though we were throwing a baseball, hurled them towards the dark ceiling. As our hands made their way back down, her finger touched her forehead and she said, “Look mom! God sent me back down a kiss!” We throw our worries up to Jesus each night, and he sends down kisses. On the first day of 1st grade Annie walked into her class and said she felt like God was right next to her, giving her a hug. Now she knows God is always near (even in her public school classroom!), longing to carry her worry and ready to meet her with a kiss.
Watching our babies hurt never gets easier. But these three tools have helped me as I walk my daughter through the inevitable pain and disappointment of life and raise a brave, resilient child.
“I am learning to be more like my daughter and giving myself permission to write epitaphs for every kind of loss. Because I am learning that whether I bury a friend or a failure, a squirrel or a fish, the act of properly laying something to rest is the first part of letting go. And letting go is a holy summons—an invitation to move forward.” -The Road to Becoming, Jenny Simmons
The Road to Becoming (Baker Books) by Jenny Simmons is set to release September 2015. It is her painfully vulnerable, laugh-out-loud, honest and hopeful reflections on life’s uncertain times and will connect with those who have ever wondered where God is in the midst of their difficulties. Framing her journey through seasons of The Dreaming and Destruction, The Burying, The Lostness, The Waiting and The Becoming, Simmons shows readers that while life may not go as planned, there is goodness to be found along the way, and God is never as far away as we think. He guides us through seasons of change and invites us into new life.