Raising children has to be one of the most difficult jobs we have on this earth, and while it can definitely be one of the most rewarding experiences, it can also be extremely devastating.
Last night, a family I know lost their child. You would be hard pressed to think of two more inclusive, kind, caring, loving, accepting, tolerant parents– yet for whatever reason, their child found the need to use drugs which inevitably ended up killing her.
The first question I ask is: Why? I believe in God– yet, I have no idea why God allows for such pain and suffering to exist.
Then I ask myself: What, if anything, could they have done differently? Lastly, I ask what I can learn from this in order to be a better parent and a better human, so as to not let such a tragedy be in vain.
While not easing all of my worries, it does give me minor comfort when I choose to learn from tragedy.
In the field I have the privilege of working in, there tends to be two different sides and schools of thought. The first school of thought is that we must keep our children in our homes no matter what– in effect, allowing their negative behaviors to continue, while continuing to love and support them through it all. The second camp says that if our children are harming themselves, we must kick them out of the house, draw firm boundaries, and let them hit bottom on their own. Each side has people who firmly believe in their particular school of thought, and each camp also resolutely feels that the other camp is misguided or wrong.
I am reminded of a story where a therapist brought a husband and wife to their Rabbi asking him to help resolve a conflict. The wife stated her case, to which the Rabbi responded, “I hear you, and you are right.” The husband then stated his case, to which the Rabbi responded, “I hear you, and you are right.” The therapist then said to the Rabbi, “How can both parties be right when they share opposing views?” to which the Rabbi responded, “I hear you, and you are right!”
At first, the story sounds comical and nonsensical. When you look deeper, what the Rabbi was trying to say is, we all have a point, and there are no absolutes. You can be a terrible parent and have wonderful children, and you can also be an incredible parent and watch your child stray, and even eventually pass. One parent can throw their child out of the house, and their child can then find their bottom, get help, and live a great life, while another parent can throw their child out of the house, and their child could end up killing themselves. The same applies for parents who keep their children in the house– there is no set rule-book, and there is often no guaranteed logic surrounding how these events will play out. No matter what– as parents, there are just some things that are out of our control.
I think the answer is that we need to stop choosing one path and one path only. We need to start listening to each other, and we need to pay specific attention to each child, and to each person in our lives. We need to find a way to ensure that they feel heard, and make our decisions regarding parenting from a place of love. And sometimes– and with great difficulty– the most loving word we can say is ‘no.’
To me, the critical point is to put an end to the shame cycle. My friends will now have to remind themselves that they did the best they could with the tools that they had, and they must learn to not blame themselves for what happened to their child.
When our children are acting poorly, we must make sure to call out the behavior– not the child themselves. When our children lie, we must make sure to ask them why they felt the need to lie– not call them a liar. This is surely a good start, and yet it may still not be enough, and for that I don’t have an easy answer– but I do have questions.
How do you find a way to not shame yourself? How do you open yourself up to see your children’s point-of-view, especially when it opposes your own opinions or beliefs? Finally, what do you do when your children are actively harming themselves?
I will leave you with one last thought– previous generations would tell us that “children must love their parents, no matter what.” I am going to suggest the exact opposite; we as parents, must love our children, no matter what. Please remember, unconditional love does not have to mean unconditional support, and there is no definitive guide on navigating sensitive issues with our children, so we must do our best to make our decisions on parenting from a place of love, compassion, and understanding.
Accountability, Community, Unconditional Love.