I had a heart to heart talk with my son the other night. I didn’t start the day, or the night, with that intention but sometimes life presents a moment of opportunity and you take it. Run with it if you possibly can, these moments don’t come around very often and are fleeting at best.
He’s always been my well grounded, moral compass kid. I’ve always joked that he was born a forty year old man, his wisdom and insight always light years ahead of his biological age. The depth in his eyes reveals a sense of experience from beyond.
You just never know what your kids are absorbing during times of crisis and challenge. You don’t know how they see it all, what it looks like and sounds like, from their vantage point. And they usually aren’t very quick to open up and give you their inside view, choosing instead to keep it inside while they figure out how they feel – or how they “should” feel.
Or maybe they’re just afraid to voice how they feel, because nobody is asking.
Too often I have heard, and have been told, that kids are resilient. They adapt, they deal, they get over it all much faster than adults. They don’t have the same baggage or past experiences to layer onto whatever is being dealt out to them. And don’t forget, they are self-centered and really don’t give much thought to what is really going on in the grown up world of the adults/parents in their lives.
And to that, I say bullshit.
I can honestly say, from my own personal experience as a kid once, that we are kidding ourselves if we think it all runs off of their backs. We are choosing to accept this idea because it makes our load a little lighter, our guilt a little smaller.
It’s really just self protection if we’re honest.
And that makes sense, because during a time of crisis we need to be the strongest we have ever been, for our kids. We try our hardest to shield them from the ugly truths, the struggles and the conflicts, because it’s not “kid stuff”. We’re really trying to protect them, we’re really trying our best and that means we keep as much of it from them as possible hopefully.
At least that’s what we believe, and are told to do. But maybe they don’t see it that way.
Maybe, they are waiting for us to tell them exactly what is going on and where we think it will lead. The good, the bad and the ugly. Maybe they would feel better just knowing. It’s often said that most of our fears come from not knowing, not being able to see the problem or hear the back story.
So we make up our own story, which can be a lot worse.
But, they’re kids and they aren’t in the position to ask for this information, much less demand it, because it’s adult stuff. And it’s personal. It’s really not about them, we assure them, they didn’t create this situation and it’s not theirs to take on or carry. We’re supposed to carry it all for them, while we struggle just to carry what is ours.
That’s parenting, isn’t it?
But maybe while we are busy struggling to carry it all they’ve actually picked up a few pieces along the way, like rocks on a trail – some bigger than others – and they’re carrying them in their pocket, unseen everyday. They don’t show them to us because they can see we have enough to deal with, and our load is already heavy, but those rocks are getting heavier and growing in numbers.
Too hard to ignore any longer.
He surprised me when he asked “what really happened?” My heart broke when he told me, with tears in his eyes, “you left me out of it all and that’s not right”. He had been waiting for me to include him, to include all of them, in what I thought was only my struggle. But it wasn’t.
It was all of ours.
I knew this on a basic level, but I wasn’t ready to admit it before. From all appearances, they were dealing with everything well enough, adapting to our new life as a divorced family. Sure we had some bumps along the way, a few incidents of acting out and the wheels coming off, but we hadn’t fallen apart. Maybe we weren’t quite a well-oiled machine, but we were definitely a machine with a purpose and a drive to keep working – even with missing pieces.
What do you tell them when they ask? How many details do you include, how far back do you go? Do I give him the verbal transcript of that ugly night when it all blew up? The tirade of describing the resentment and the unhappiness that had been simmering, for years I was informed that night, that went unspoken. The harsh judgements spit at me about my character, my integrity, my worth – all coming from someone who swore to love and honor me for the rest of our lives.
Do I admit to the questions that still swirl in my head, that will go unanswered forever. The shadows of memories when I should have “known” something wasn’t quite right, but chose instead to look away to keep the peace. To believe in us and our family.
How do I explain the jagged path, that lead to this place, to my son?
I answered him the best way I knew how, that was the only way I could think of. I asked him what he wanted to know, and I answered his questions, but I did not elaborate with too many details. Broad strokes, the highlight reel. And that was enough, that’s all he really needed to feel included. To feel seen, to feel heard.
To let go of a few of those small rocks he had been carrying around in his pockets.
That night I realized that I work too hard to shield my kids from the “bad stuff”, which is doing more harm than good sometimes. They are on the outside trying to look in and I keep shutting the curtains. Leaving them to wonder, to worry, to write their own story of what is going on and most times not the best story.
How will they learn to deal with the hard stuff, when it comes their way some day, without some idea that it even exists? What tools will they have if I never admit that life is work, not just marriage, but life in general. It doesn’t just come to you warm and cozy without any challenges or tests of your strength and integrity.
Sometimes you have to have grit and determination to push through to the other side of the darkness. Sometimes, you need a flashlight or you need someone to give you a flashlight even if you don’t ask for one. You need help, you need support, you need answers whether they’re the ones you hoped for or not.
You need someone to take on some of the weight of those challenges, to take some of those rocks that weigh you down out of your pockets and carry them for you. Or toss them to the side of the path, out of your way. But in most cases, you have to have the idea that it’s okay to ask for help, to ask the hard questions and to give the hard answers.
You will survive. It will suck sometimes, but you will survive.
I’ve tried to be better with this idea now that I realize how hard it can be on my kids. I push a little more to have those hard conversations and to be more forthcoming with those sometimes ugly answers. I want them to trust in me that I will always be honest with them, and not just because they had to ask.
Hopefully I won’t need to worry about it so much going forward. Life is running much smoother now for the most part, but then again, life has a way of surprising us doesn’t it?