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Our Hurting Kids Need More from Us than “It Will Be Okay”

“All better now?”

One of the main characters in one of my favorite movies asks his wife this question after he accidentally drops her on the floor as he’s carrying her over the threshold.

He helps her up and then asks, “All better now?”

She’s been recovering for like two seconds at this point.

When our big kids get dropped by life, we sometimes do the same thing: We help them up and then say, “All better now?” We don’t want them to be hurt. We genuinely want them to be “all better.”

But we can’t rush our kids through their pain. Our teens need us to sit with them in that pain for a while before we gently start to steer them along and help them find their way out of it. During this process, what we do and say can go a long way toward helping our hurting kids get to the point of genuinely being “all better now.”

What to do—and What Not to Do

Be present.

Especially if someone or something has left our teens’ lives, they need us to be there more than ever. “There” might be on a bed, holding a sobbing child and supplying fresh tissues. “There” might be hovering nearby in the house, waiting to be summoned closer. “There” might be on the road, driving to wherever they are. “There” might be (or might have to be) on our phones, anytime, day or night. While we’re there, we might very well not be doing or saying anything. But presence speaks love loudly.

Don’t try to rush them past their hurt.

As parents, we want to fix things, and we want to fix them NOW. Every instinct says, “Let’s move this process along! Let’s get to the other side today!” But pain must be given its due, and it has no roadmap and no fixed timetable. It cannot be gone around, only through. Our natural bent as parents when our children’s hearts are hurting—because we don’t want the people we love to be in pain—is to try to talk them out of that hurt. But are kids show us that what they really need is for us to sit with them IN it.

Throw in some good spontaneity.

As long as life is in flux anyway, we might as well make the most of it. We can do drive-thru French-fries-and-milkshake runs in our pajamas at 10 o’clock at night. We can watch a funny movie in the middle of the day. We can get in the car, crank up some music, and go for a random drive. Spur-of-the-moment fun doesn’t fix our teens’ problems or even make them forget those problems, but it does layer love on top of them.

Check in… but not every five minutes.

When our kids are in pain, the temptation is to ask again and again, “Are you okay?” We ask this not because we want our kids to say they’re okay but because we want them to be okay. And they will be. One day. But this is probably not that day. The goal in checking in is to let our kids know we’re there for them, keeping tabs on them without making them feel like we’re constantly hounding them for updates.

Don’t take it personally.

When our kids are suffering, their hurt often looks like anger or resentment or sullenness toward us. Our teens usually can’t unload their emotions on whoever or whatever is actually causing their pain, so they unload it on people they know they can trust. We are there safe spaces. This doesn’t mean we put up with abuse or disrespect. But it does mean we toughen our skin and tenderize our hearts.

What to Say

I’m so sorry.

Whatever has happened to our kids, we want them to know that when they’re hurting, we’re hurting right along with them and that they are not alone in their pain. Saying “I’m sorry” doesn’t fix the problem or change the circumstances, but it lets our teens know that what affects them affects us, too.

Do you want me to…?

Hold you while you cry? Listen while you vent? Leave you alone, but order pizza in a while? Our hurting big kids might not need us to do anything, but they might need us to offer to do something.

You won’t feel like this forever—but it’s healthy to let yourself feel like it now.

There’s a time for feeling, and there’s a time for fixing. Our wounded kids need both encouragement to spend some time in sadness or anger or bitterness and assurance that, someday, they will feel better.

This is not all of who you are, and it is not only who you are.

Our kids may be the ex-love interests or the wait-listed students or the understudies or the benchwarmers. But we need to remind them that what describes them in part does not define them as a whole.

I love you.

It’s what we say as parents when we don’t know what else to say—or even when we do know what else to say. It’s the beginning and the end and the foundation for everything worth saying in between.

After we sit with our kids in their pain for a while, we can gently start to steer them out of it, toward somewhere new: toward a place where they can say they’re better (if not necessarily “all” better). Toward a place where they’re able to see what they’ve gained from what they’ve lost. And toward a place we know we’ve made it to together.

Elizabeth Spencer is mom to two daughters (one teen and one young adult) who regularly dispense love, affection, and brutally honest fashion advice. She writes about faith, food, and family (with some occasional funny thrown in) at Guilty Chocoholic Mama and avoids working on her 100-year-old farmhouse by spending time on Facebook and Twitter.

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