Tough Love? None for me, thanks…Posted: January 16, 2012 Filed under: About Childhood, About Family Life, About the Christian Life | Tags: holding the space, listening ear, neurotic fear, no pain no gain, Renee Alston, tough love 6 Comments
I spent some time this weekend with a dear friend and mentor. Although he’s current on all parenting and educational research and trends, sometimes he seems to come from a different era. While the rest of us are helicoptering and s-mothering, he’s relaxed about kids and has great faith in their future. He constantly tells me not to worry and to take the long view with my own kids.
A few years ago, he and I were at the park with a pack of kids. Two of them went exploring and were gone too long. I was trying to play it cool with him and disguise my rising panic, but I knew we were in real trouble when he turned to me and calmly said, “Seems like it’s time to call the police.” When the most Zen dad around is worried, fear has already entered every cell of my body. The police did come that day and an organic search party began to help us look. Of course, within minutes those two prepubescent girls strolled in chitchatting and gesturing with each other, engrossed in their own stories with no awareness of my alarm.
Although he reacted that day, most of the time he doesn’t. I call him crying about this or that and with as much respect and listening as he can muster, he gently blows me off. I am not throwing him under the bus! He is a rare gift in that he offers empathy without joining in with my neurotic fear.
Last week, I confessed to readers that listening is not my strongest gift and I prefer to fix. Pressing the publish button on that post appears to have unleashed an intention into the universe. My listening and not fixing pledge has been tested almost every day since, and I think I failed most of the opportunities. But these chances to practice have been great. Here is what I’ve learned:
1) I don’t like suffering. 2) I see no upside to it. 3) If we’re honest, most of us deal with a large dose of it.
When I am exposed to another’s pain, I cannot always imagine the healing that will eventually come. I feel the hurt right in the moment and it crushes me. As I get better at the not fixing part, I want to stay good at the emphasizing and comforting. I struggle to embrace my friend’s casual approach to heartache, struggles, and pain and see them all as part of the process of growing up, building character and becoming stronger. Although this notion helps me gain perspective, something about it doesn’t ring absolutely true.
This week I read Renee Alston’s memoir, Stumbling toward Faith. Although her story offers some redemption, it’s mostly a story of great pain and loss. What she faced didn’t, in fact, make her stronger. It just broke her.
I recently discovered my new favorite blogger, Glennon, who writes mostly about parenting and sometimes about recovery. I had a little Aha! moment when I read her bio: My best guess is that I was born a little broken, with an extra dose of sensitivity. Growing up, I felt like I was missing the armor I needed to expose myself to life’s risks – rejection, friendship, tender love.
Growing up with an extra dose of sensitivity pretty much describes me. I could be wrong, and maybe the ultimate story of my life will prove different, but I don’t believe I gained much from pain. I think back on the adults who were around and served as positive guides along my path – professors, youth pastors, parents, grandparents, neighbors, aunts. Guess what? Every single person on my list was someone who was gentle, nurturing and kind to me. No dogmatic, demanding teachers or anyone who made me work for their approval make my list. Only people who provided a safe, grace-filled space for me to feel loved ever motivated me on to greater heights.
When I hear coaches yelling at kids, teachers pitting kids against each other, parents criticizing B+ grades, husbands belittling wives at cocktail parties, or girlfriends competing with or betraying each other, I just cover my aching heart. I never think, Oh goodie, this will make them stronger.
I know there is more than one way to skin a cat, so I am guessing that others are motivated by pain. And although I can agree that I have sometimes learned lessons from tough times, I think the place where growth-during-difficulty happened for me was in the space where loving people were holding me up.
So, that’s what I am going to keep offering in the face of unfair, mind-blowing difficulty. Come to me for some old fashioned TLC, baby!
And while I am doing all that hugging and nurturing, I will also try to emulate my friend. I will attempt to take the long view more often with my own children, keep the panic at bay and put more faith and trust in the God who holds them in the palm of His hand.
You’ve made me pause and think a lot with this post, Joy Libby. I agree that the pain that stems from this — coaches yelling at kids, teachers pitting kids against each other, parents criticizing B+ grades, husbands belittling wives at cocktail parties, or girlfriends competing with or betraying each other — just hurts. But there is another type of pain that comes from loss that has been helpful, that has made me stronger. When we had very little money and had to depend on God for sustenance — it was a painful process of dying to false security and replacing trust where it belonged. If I hadn’t gone through that I wouldn’t have been able to experience what it means to truly put finances in God’s hands. I think about Craig’s porn addiction — very painful. And yet, as much as I really wish we hadn’t gone through that, I think Craig and I are stronger because of the types of conversations we’ve had to have. Those conversations have bred a lot of intimacy. I guess what I’m saying is that I’ve seen a lot of redemption coming on the other side of the pain. If I hadn’t had the pain, I might have missed the magnitude of His beauty.
Jen — totally know what you mean. When I allow myself to be loved in the midst of the pain is when I grow. Turning away from Him, I lose my chance of that and all I am left with is the pain. Am going to keep thinking about this — you share with such a vulnerable heart my dear.
You may not have known it, but you were the “voice in the wilderness” a couple times for me. Thanks!
“When I hear coaches yelling at kids…”
Before becoming a parent several years ago, I took little notice of coaches and parents and their behavior around sports. Now that I have two little ones playing sports year-round, it is sad to see the coaches and parents that try to relive their own inadequate childhoods through kids. Seeing a young player receive praise and then respond positively is something that I wish some of these “in my mind I was a former child all-stars” would take notice of.
Slam Dunk — your comment brought a smile! In fact it brought to mind several specific faces too! Thanks for visiting! Joy
Joy once again I appreciate your post! When kids are bullied their self – esteem is attacked. When a husband cuts down his wife feeling valued goes out the window. When parents degrade their children to get them to submit – self confidence is destroyed. Only love, compassion and an identity in Christ can heal this kind of brokeness. All of this is learned by others. I believe that God fills our hearts with mercy for the broken. Healing happens when we meet each other at the hurting place. As I read your post joy – I get the sense that your love shines with mercy for the broken. Thankyou! Lisa