By Lynn Paris
There is nothing more heartbreaking than knowing your child is suffering, except perhaps knowing that there’s nothing you can do to help. When it’s a youngster, you’re forced to endure it as the mean teacher, the bully down the street, the countless rejections experienced at the hands of other children all take their turn, and their toll on your child. It’s painful, but you know there are life lessons being learned, as well as some potentially useful scar tissue being built up. You can comfort them, put your arms around them, lift their spirits or write a nasty letter to the mean teacher, whatever helps you get through it. And, with a child, at least you know their suffering is generally short-lived.
But when your child is an adult, the pain is deeper because their suffering is deeper. You can’t deflect it or write to anyone or soothe them with a hug (not that a hug ever hurts, but what happens when you’re a thousand miles apart?) All you can really do is listen, empathize, and let them know you’re on their side.
Until the time comes when you begin to believe that the hole they are in is one they need to fight like hell to come out of or they’ll get stuck there. When you see a child you adore beginning to believe his or her own worst reviews, the ones that are self-inflicted and filled with desperation, your natural instinct is to help. Offer money, offer refuge, offer support. You want to pay their way out of that hole, or advise them out of it; you want to do everything in your power to reach down into that hole with your arm fully extended and pull them out.
But you’re not rich enough, wise enough or strong enough. It’s not your hole. You can blame yourself for things you could or should have done differently twenty or thirty years ago, and you probably will indulge yourself in that futile exercise for awhile, but it is a futile exercise. You can’t go back, any more than you can change all that might have been different in your own childhood. At a certain point, whenever it arrived, you realized that you were the only one responsible for your own actions; you knew that you were the adult and looking back accomplished nothing.
So what do you do? Some people I know believe in cutting the cord. Once their kids are over twenty-one, they’re on their own. Doesn’t matter what happens. I don’t understand how that’s possible, but they pull it off. Without suffering.
But most of us are lifelong parents; our children will always be our children and we will forever feel their pain. The question is how to handle it. Or, to be more accurate, how do we encourage them to get themselves out of that hole? Because that’s what HAS to happen. They have to get themselves out.
When I think about my child, I know the hole has been created by years of bad choices, bad timing, and bad luck. Not just the precipitating event of two years ago, either. But bad choices long before that which might have gone unacknowledged, even unnoticed were it not for the more recent circumstances.
Still, there’s such a thing as good choices, good timing and good luck. And all you can control are the choices. Even if you have faith in God and put your life in his hands, you still have to make the choices. You can’t wait for Him to rescue you from that hole; you have to make the choices. Some will require a short term sacrifice for a long term goal. Some, a decision between the familiar and the unknown, the comfortable and the unnerving, the easy and the extremely difficult. You can’t accept being a defeatist; you have to make each choice with hope.
Because the reality is that each choice, each positive decision gives you the strength to push your way up, in tiny faltering steps, out of that hole. It probably seems that the hole is not only deep, but filled with so much debris that to get out of it is nearly impossible; you can’t even see any light at the top from way down there.
That’s how it seems at the bottom. But once those choices are made and those first tentative steps upward achieved, it’s amazing what God, or your Higher Power, or the Great Spirit or Life will do to change your luck. First it will hand you a stool, and then a ladder. And finally, just when you need to see exactly where you are going, it will shine a beam of light into that hole to guide you on your way up and out.