The look in a parent’s eyes when they are pleading with you to “fix” their child is one that you don’t forget: desperate, exhausted, impatient, burnt out—but most importantly, scared to death. Scared to death that there is no solution to the pain that they are feeling as parents. Scared to death that there is no way to control what is happening to their child.
I get it. I have the utmost respect and admiration for parents of all children, but especially those with children who struggle with substance abuse, behavioral difficulties, addiction, etc. This stuff is HARD. Really, really, really hard. For a lot of parents, it is the most difficult obstacle they will face in their lives. What’s even more difficult is being completely powerless over your child. That’s right. As parents, we are powerless.
Having been a therapist for children and adolescents for a few years, I can’t tell you the number of times that parents have come to me hoping that there is an “easy-fix” or a solution that will “fix” their child. Of course, parents don’t always use the word “fix” (although sometimes they do) but they do imply in some way that their child is broken.
Here’s where I think this belief comes from. I think that as parents, we become so terrified of something bad happening to our children. Or perhaps bad things have already happened to our children, and we are desperate to prevent something worse from happening to them. This fear begins to run our lives. We, whether consciously or not, say to ourselves “there has GOT to be something that I can do. Some way I can control this. Some solution.” We shift into problem-solving mode, turn off compassion, and become life-managers. We try to run the show. This is where helicopter parenting comes in. We tell ourselves that if we can do things FOR our children, then we can protect them from the pain and suffering in the world.
What we don’t realize is that this very belief is handicapping to our children. The more we do FOR our children, the more we try to FIX them, the less autonomy they develop, the less capable they feel, and the more they feel broken or that there is “something wrong” with them.
Children don’t need to be fixed because they aren’t broken. No matter how much a child is struggling, acting out, pushing you away—they are in pain. Pain is what causes these behaviors. These behaviors are a means to cope with the pain. We all do this to some extent. We all have defense mechanisms and ways of coping with our pain–some healthier than others.
As parents, let’s become better listeners to our children’s pain. Let’s learn to sit with them as they experience it. Let’s validate their pain, help them acknowledge it, and love them through it. Let’s be aware of our own innate desires to “take their pain away” and explore where that comes from. Ultimately, a desire to take away their pain is actually a desire to take our own pain away.
Children learn directly from us what is bearable, what is manageable, and how to respond to various stimuli in this world. This is why we are told that when our child gets hurt, don’t scream, cry, or yell. Try to manage your own reaction. Wait for them to respond and then act accordingly. They take cues from us. If we teach them that pain is to be avoided in life, then they will seek a life without pain, which ultimately leads to addiction, avoidance, repression, and pleasure-seeking behaviors.
As a very new parent, I can’t tell you how difficult it is to hear my baby cry, to see my baby in pain, and to witness him uncomfortable. More than anything in the world, I want to take his pain away and offer him a life without suffering. A life free of obstacles, free of struggle, and free of suffering. I can see how this pattern develops and solidifies later in life.
But this isn’t my job. My job as a parent isn’t to remove all obstacles from my child’s life. My job is to love my child unconditionally and, when he is old enough, to teach him how to handle life’s obstacles on his own. My job is to model for him that life is filled with both joy and pain, and both of these things can be beautiful.
Your child doesn’t need to be fixed because your child isn’t broken.
Your child just needs you to love him/her through the pain.