Going back to my parents’ house is like going through a time warp. In my bedroom are old yearbooks, old pictures, and an old Jars of Clay band poster that overlooks my bed. I think it’s funny. My husband, sleeping under the watchful eyes of the Christian boy band, less so.
This past Christmas, while visiting, I came across an old journal. Where I picked up, Homecoming was just around the corner, and pages were filled imagining who I wanted to go with, and the 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.
I wasn’t asked. 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.
To try and salvage at least part of the plan of going with a group of friends, I decided to ask someone myself. But he was out. And that was the last straw. It was the final deathblow to my pride. I accepted the inevitable.
I wasn’t going to my Senior Homecoming.
It didn’t help matters that I was on the Homecoming Dance planning committee, decorating for a dance I wouldn’t be attending. Or that I was good friends with This Guy who saw me—at best—as 4th place in his life. Or maybe worst of all, that I was fumbling to make some sort of significant plans that would make me appear okay, the night of the dance when it rolled around.
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 and 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. Because they knew, even if I didn’t, 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.
Going back and reading the journal entries of 17 year old me, I was reminded that emotions tend to operate in a vacuum. That in the moment of hurt and pain and anxiety we are incapable of seeing the big picture. That 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 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 that that’s true 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. And that’s great news.
I don’t plan on taking the Jars of Clay poster down any time soon. (Unless it’s a nonnegotiable for Rodney.) Because I like having a reminder when I go back to the house I grew up in that, though it appears time has stood still, it hasn’t. And the best way to move forward 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.
And to offer the same gift to my kids. To let them feel their own drama and enter it with them. Not to talk them out of it, but to sit in it, and gently guide them through it as time does what it always does. Moves forward. And takes us with it. And somehow heals us in the process.