“Everything happens for a reason.”
“If God gives you something difficult it must be because he knows how strong you are.”
“God only gives special children to special parents.”
Maybe you’ve heard a few of these before and I’m guessing you can add to the list. Trust me, I’ve heard them all. Each one, like a knife turning in the wound a bit. Making it sound like God just dropped a bomb of pain into our lives like its a bouquet of flowers. It’s not a bouquet of flowers. And I don’t believe its the way God intended it to be. In fact, I know its not. He didn’t intend for pain and suffering and broken and he doesn’t drop it into our lives like sprinkles on a cupcake. So what is the deal then? When we are holding the broken pieces of our life in our hands, shards falling to the floor, and we just don’t know what to do with the mess. What do we do? What do we say? How do we take another step forward?
For me, parenting amidst grief is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’m grieving. They are grieving. When its hard to even get out of bed in the morning, attempting to parent, let alone be a good parent, is a daunting task. One that feels insurmountable at times. I remember the long list of fears when our world came crashing down. It’s not a place I would ever chose to return, but it is a place I know I can survive again if I have to and more importantly, its a place I now know they can survive again. I gained some wisdom during those days, mostly from others who’d been there, some just from living through it. I didn’t think we’d see the other side. I didn’t think they’d see the other side. But as I learned how to help them, I picked up a few things for myself to. As it turns out the answers I needed and the answers they needed were one in the same. I did live through it. And so did my kids.
I remember very clearly, beginning to realize that I really was on the edge of divorce. This was happening. The train was rolling and standing in front of it any longer wasn’t going to save us. I knew I had to step aside and let it run its course, but I could not get past the place in my mind that told me my children would not survive this. No child should ever have to go through this. I’d promised them. PROMISED them. This would never happen to them. And then I had to tell them, it was happening to them. One of them, a child on the spectrum. Change was devastating for this child, even slight changes, like a spontaneous trip to the store. The meltdowns, the sleepless nights, all the pain he was already in, and I had to break the news to him that more was coming. Worst day of my life. It breaks me to think of it even now. The other two, so small, to little to even know what was coming for them. So unfair. They’d hardly have a memory of their parents together, if any. They were all just too young to have to face this. I’d dedicated all my life to making sure they were loved, cared for, secure, and in a heart beat I had to take my hand off the trigger and let their world explode. This was not okay. It wasn’t going to be okay.
Your kids will be okay. (And so will you.) I know what you’re thinking. I thought it too. How? How on earth could this possibly be okay for them? How will they ever be okay? I could not wrap my mind around the idea and all I wanted was to avoid this pain for them. Deep down in my bones I wanted to shield them and carry it for them. They were three, five, and six for heavens sake. Still young enough that a mother should be able to protect them. But it was my fear talking and fear lies. It’s the biggest liar of them all. Was if fun? No. It hurt and it still hurts for them. But, believe it or not, they are okay, they are better than okay actually. They are thriving. If you would have told me that would be the case at the beginning of this road I would have laughed. In fact, I did laugh. When my counselor said it. When my friends said it. I didn’t believe them and I probably argued with them. Whatever loss it is your kids are facing, you cannot fix it, you cannot change it, you cannot fill it, but you can walk along side of them, and that will make all the difference. Believe me when I say this, whatever you are facing, whatever they are facing, you will be okay, and so will they.
Let them see you grieve. I think our tendency is to hide our pain and tears from our kids. Heck I want to hide my pain from myself. Maybe that’s part of why we do it. Sometimes its just to painful to acknowledge how much something hurts and its that much more painful to acknowledge just how much something is hurting our child. But that can cause us to downplay or miss their grief altogether. Especially if we are buried in our own at the same time. Let them say all the things. Ask all the questions. Even when you don’t have answers. Try not to swoop in with all the positives to quick, they need a place to spew their feelings, and their safest bet is you. Try not to take any of it personally or let it scare you. They don’t have the outlets we have. They have us. I know its hard to weather that storm while you weather your own. Remember it is for a time and usually after we are able to dump our feelings somewhere safe we can leave them there and healing begins. Be a safe place for them to say anything. Feelings are not always truth but they are always valid. They need to know its okay to be sad and mad and have all the feelings. They need to witness healthy ways to deal with those feelings so they can do the same. I think it goes without saying that this will look different depending on the age and development of each of your children. They don’t need the nitty-gritty adult details of what you are wrestling with but its okay for them to see you sad and to hear you say you don’t know either.
God is good. Oh how I’ve wrestled with this one. But it’s truth. It’s truth to hold onto. God works all things together for good. Cling to this truth, for yourself, and for them, because it is true. I do not believe God is the author of our pain. We live in a fallen world and to think that pain and sickness and death and sin aren’t going to touch us and our children at some point just isn’t realistic. His ways are not our ways. He doesn’t think the way we think. If there is one thing I have learned is that God is good and he loves us. Hands down, I know he loves us. The rest is just details. All other bets are off. There aren’t a lot of other guarantees but there is this one. God is good. Always. I know it can be hard to see in times of grief but I also think that’s when its most evident. And its definitely when we need to hear it most. It doesn’t feel fair and it doesn’t feel right because its not. Our hearts and our minds know that death and suffering are not supposed to be. Children aren’t supposed to lose parents, to death or divorce. Parents aren’t supposed to lose children. Eternity is etched into our hearts and when we are met face to face with sin and death every bit of us knows its not right. The goodness of God is found right here in the middle of that mess. He did not cause this for you, but he is going to take it and turn it into something beautiful. Maybe not the beautiful thing you are hoping for right now. But something beautiful. It’s his way.
God did not choose to heal my first marriage the way I once begged, but the beauty he has brought astounds me every day. Beyond my second marriage to my most favorite person in the world, beyond the sweet fourth baby he gave me. Through my divorce God has protected me and my first three children from things I didn’t even realize at the time we needed protection from. I am absolutely floored by the maturity of my oldest. The one on the autism spectrum, who I thought most of all would not be okay, he’s soaring. And its because of what he’s been through. He understands things most kids his age would never and its going to save him from so much heart ache as an adult. So many painful lessons my kids have learned here at home, with me and my husband walking by their side through it, instead of having to learn those things out on their own. Those are things we never could have given them otherwise. My kids are amazing. And its because God is good. It isn’t clean and pretty yet, the way it will be in heaven when all things are fully healed. God hasn’t tied it all off with a pretty bow. It’s still messy. We still struggle. But he has pulled so many gems out of the destruction and I’m deeply grateful for each of those gems.
I’m not advocating for divorce, (or death or any sort of grief). It’s so very awful and painful. That said, your kids will be okay. Because God really is good. Even when we don’t understand. Even when we aren’t sure we believe it. Redemption is his game. It’s his way. It’s the story he keeps telling us over and over again. He can take the mess, the mess in our hearts, the mess in our lives, and mold it, and shape it and make it good. He can and he will. And that is the only truth I know that can carry you and your children when grief knocks at your door. He can take that ugly mess Satan tries to make of your life and turn it into a masterpiece. His ability to move and create and bring beauty in the midst of so much sin and ugly is beyond the edges of my understanding. He’s going to do it for you. He’s going to do it for your children. Tell them. Tell yourself. If there is nothing else you can reassure them of there is this. God is good. And he’s going to bring good things out of this mess.