As parents we do our best to make sure our child has everything. We work to make sure there is a roof over their heads. We cook so that they can eat and grow. We give gifts so they will be happy. Then we pad crib walls, insert safety plugs into outlets, lock away poisons in cabinets all to keep them from getting hurt. But we know the truth don’t we? Our children are going to experience pain, both physical and emotional. There is no way around it. Pain happens and as parents, we must teach our children how to process and recover from pain.
It hurts me to think about my four year old being in pain. I don’t like it when he trips and falls or cries because he’s emotionally upset. I, like you, want to rush in and make everything better with the wave of a magic wand. I hold him, comfort him and tell him it’s going to be okay. He calms down, we hug some more and he goes on to explore the world. That’s the way it should always be, right? I mean I will always be my son’s father.
But we as parents know another truth, don’t we? We won’t always be there to comfort our children when they need it. When your son falls at school and scrapes his knee, you won’t be right there with a band-aid and a hug. When your daughter makes a disappointing grade on a test, you won’t be right there to comfort her. So what remains in that moment of crisis for our children seeking healing and comfort? What remains is what they have learned. We as parents have to teach our children how to deal with pain, both physical and emotional. This is a hard lesson to learn and an even harder one to teach.
Once I took my son to a park to play. At the time we were the only people around a massive jungle gym. I walked around the outside of the set talking and laughing with him. He came to a step stool staircase. He timidly stepped down on the first stool while clutching the side of the structure behind him. Then he took his second step down while still clutching the side trying to hold on to what he know was safe but I could see he was stretching himself too far. He wasn’t going to make it to the second step. He was going to fall.
Don’t refuse to correct your children on the false security that life is without pain and that you will always be there to fix life’s problems.
In a split second there was a battle raging within me. I wanted to dive in, catch him and tell him to be careful. Conversely, I didn’t want to want to be a helicopter parent who does everything for their child. So what is the right answer? As his little foot started to slide off the step stool I began a lighting fast calculation of his situation. I new he was only a foot and a half off the ground over a padded playground mat. I knew there wouldn’t be a long lasting injury. Then I made the decision to let my son fall.
His fall was very controlled but he still hit the ground with a thud. I stood still and waited. He paused then began to cry as I expected. I stood still and waited longer, an eternity. He picked himself up in his hysterical state and came over to me. I scooped him up, examined his knee and we sat down at a nearby bench. He was okay, shaken but okay. I didn’t smother him with love or lavish hugs. He sat on my knee while we calmly talked about what happened. Then, before he had even stopped crying, he got up and went right back playing. That day my son learned how to navigate that staircase and, in some ways, learned to navigate life.
Painful experiences don’t always lead to lasting discomfort. I bet you have a few stories about tough situations that made you a better man. I know I do. In 2009 I had to come home one afternoon to tell my wife that we were not going to buy the house we put an offer on because I had been laid off from my job. This was painfully crushing to my self esteem and to my role as a provider. My wife and I were strong in the face of this challenge. We we both prepared by our respective parents to deal with pain and we knew God had a bigger plan.
Years later that brief painful moment led to my becoming a 15-time award-winning videographer and we own a wonderful home. Countless times my wife and I have talked about how glad we were that things didn’t work out with that other house.
In a previous article, I’ve written that discipline is an attribute of a great dad. Teaching your kids how to deal with pain is part of discipline. Proverbs says: “A refusal to correct is a refusal to love; love your children by disciplining them.” (MSG). Don’t refuse to correct your children on the false security that life is without pain and that you will always be there to fix life’s problems.
Be there to comfort your children when you can, but more importantly impart to them the wisdom they need in the face of pain and uncertainty. Love them enough to let them fall.
Andy Murphy runs the website The Secure Dad. This article was republished with permission.