How to Help Your Child Grow Through Pain and Struggle

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Watching my child hurt in any way and not rushing to the rescue is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do as a mom.  Most of the time we are supposed to come to the rescue, but there are times when it is critical that we do not.  And sometimes we literally cannot fix the problem that is causing them to suffer. When this happens, don’t panic. Let me explain why letting our children experience pain and struggle is sometimes the kindest thing we can do for them as their mother, and the only way to help your child grow stronger.

You can't take away all the storms in your child's life, but you can teach them how to weather them. Here are the keys to help your child grow through pain and struggle.

A crazy wind storm struck our town this past weekend with the fury of a toddler in a toy room.  I laid awake in my bed– the ruckus outside ringing in my ears and robbing me of sleep, which we all know is a mother’s most precious commodity.  My husband planned to work on a past due project at his shop until midnight.  Midnight came and went and he still wasn’t home.  I got a text a little while later saying the wind was keeping the key-padded gate from opening and he couldn’t get his car out to come home, so he was just going to sleep at the shop for the night.  But around 2 a.m. he walked in the door.  Foolishly, he had decided to take his scooter home instead because he could squeeze it through the gate, not knowing he would be dodging trampolines, picnic tables, and branches all the way home as he and his scooter were tossed about in every direction with the wind.

My children were all awake at this point as a loud crash outside had pulled them from their slumber.  And my husband had to be the bearer of bad news.  The willow tree didn’t weather the storm.  The willow tree that had become the essence of my children’s childhood.  The willow tree that held so many of the memories of their carefree summer days within its draping branches.  The willow tree whose upper branches held a tree house of their own rudimentary design, created with their own blood, sweat, and tears over the past 3 years.

willow tree

willow tree

I loved watching my daughter with her long, unruly hair, swinging from its branches in her pajamas.  It was like an illustration right out of a Shell Silverstein book and it seemed to me to be the image of everything childhood should be.  I would sit in a chair on the outside and watch the magic ensue on the inside, and it seemed all was right with the world.  I wished I could keep them in the safety and naivety of those branches forever– oblivious to all the evil, hurt, and suffering in this world– just swinging from its branches full of dreams, optimism, and pure joy.

 And now, with one gust of wind, this tree that had withstood a hundred years of wind storms lost its middle tower and this iconic childhood landmark was suddenly transformed into a shell of what it once was.

Willow Tree

The next day, as loving neighbors helped us clean up the wreckage, my oldest daughter watched with tears running down her face as her tree house was destroyed by the tractor detaching the broken limbs from the tree.  It was like her childhood was being ripped from her, and it broke my heart.  I wanted to put her back into the safety of the tree’s branches and not let her feel the pain of loss, even if it was just a tree.

But I couldn’t. And I knew that I shouldn’t.  As much as I want to shield my daughter from all pain and struggle, I know from my own experience that my heart only grows in its capacity to know and feel true joy by experiencing its opposite.  I don’t want to rob her of these heart expanding experiences because I know that the caverns that are left in our hearts after painful experiences leave room for that much more love and joy to take their place.  And truly, a huge part of the purpose of this life experience is to learn and grow through struggles and trials. Our relationship with our Maker is forged in the moments when we are pushed to our limits, so we turn to Him, and He takes us higher than we ever thought possible.

I want so much for my daughter to understand that arbitrary things like windstorms can rip the things we love most away from us, and some of us, in response, spend a lifetime fearing the wind or trying to control it, but the wisest among us accept that, while we can’t control the wind, we can let it make us stronger.  

I want her to understand that loving, and creating, and building, and reaching always comes with the inherent risk of being vulnerable to pain, loss, or failure, but a life without loving, creating, building, and reaching is a wasted life.  So we love, and we create, and we build, and we reach, and when we lose, we hurt, and we cry, and then we learn, and we grown, and we get back up and we love, and create, and build, and reach again… because it is worth it. 

We all have to leave the safety of the tree’s branches at some point. I remember my first foray out of the branches. I was 1st grader, sitting in the pews of my church at the funeral of my best friend who lost her battle with leukemia. They played a recording of her singing “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow” to our first grade class and I lost it. I hid my face in my brother’s shirt sleeve as my broken heart escaped through my eyes for the duration of the service.  It was my first time really experiencing loss, and man did it hurt.  I didn’t know how to deal with it.  I decided then and there I would never attend another viewing or funeral.  It was too much for my heart to take.  

But, that wouldn’t be the last loss in my life, and as each one has come, I’ve learned how to cope with it a little better, and I’ve grown a little stronger, and I’ve learned to appreciated the things that really matter most.  

I have learned when facing the wind, the deeper your roots, the better chance you have of coming out stronger on the other side.

So, what are your roots?  They are your relationship with your God. Your faith that He has a greater plan for your life than you could ever come up with on your own.  That He is aware of you and helping things- even the hard, heart-wrenching, awful things you experience- work together for your good as you put your trust in Him.  They are your relationships with your family and friends– surrounding yourself with people who love, and support, and serve you and who you love, and support, and serve in return.  Having people in your life who help you feel God’s love for you makes all the difference in the world.  And being the kind of person who helps others feel God’s love for them is the most fulfilling thing in the world.  There is no adversity you can’t weather if your roots are deep and growing.

I have also learned that, just like it is not wise to ride down the road in a wind storm on a scooter without a helmet, it is also not wise to go out into this crazy world without some protection. Staying in close contact with your Maker, then studying and living His words on a daily basis are the best form of armor I know.  When I fail to do these things, I feel much more vulnerable and tossed about by all that life throws at me.  But when I take the time to put on my armor, things are clearer and I feel stronger.  

And so I hope as my daughter lets go of her beloved willow tree, that I can teach her through this experience how to deepen her roots and strengthen her armor so she’ll be more prepared for her next venture away from the safety of the tree.

Whether it is losing a favorite tree, or losing a loved one, or dealing with a bully, or the betrayal of a friend– when she is going through hard times, I hope that she can think back on the many magical childhood moments she experienced in the midst of those branches, and find comfort that there is still joy waiting to be had on the other side of her trial.  And with this knowledge, I hope she will stand tall against the wind, firmly rooted in what she knows to be true, and allow each windstorm to leave her a little stronger than she was before. And with that strength, I hope she will become an empathetic safe haven where others can find comfort and rest, just like she did in the branches of our willow tree.

You can't take away all the storms in your child's life, but you can teach them how to weather them.