Watching my children struggle has been the hardest part of parenting—here’s how I do it

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The hardest part of parenting for me has been watching my kids struggle and experience pain. My instinct is to protect them from the harsh realities of being human: rejection, failed tests, negative self-talk, anxiety and injustice. It’s humbling and heartbreaking to realize that none of this is within my control as their mother. Yet, I’ve come to understand that sheltering them from hurt would be a great disservice to their development. Working through pain is a necessary part of being alive and how we grow. Times of great struggle can lead to great growth, but only if we learn to face them head-on. 

It’s truly a practice for me to remember this. Every time my kids face hardship. I go right back to primal mama-tiger mode—wanting to protect and shelter them with every cell in my body. But I’ve learned that avoiding, hiding, normalizing, numbing or burying pain can have far more damaging effects. In my experience, these avoidance tactics build up until something cracks inside you. You might not know why you are suddenly depressed or doing something unhealthy later in life—it’s often because the pain was pushed aside and is trying to come out another way. This wisdom comes with age. I have come to realize my job as a mother is to help my children build a lifelong practice of feeling all the feels—especially the hard ones.

Facing painful feelings requires our children to be courageous. But it can be really hard to do that alone. We all need help in these moments which is how I’ve learned to channel my mother-tiger energy. Rather than protecting my kids, I coach them from the sidelines and remind them not to hide from their feelings. I help them remember to invite the pain in rather than run from it. I remind them that the struggle they are experiencing is a form of resistance and will make them stronger if they lean in. This is different than trying to solve or excuse their pain away. 

Even though my kids are young adults now, all kids can learn to observe their feelings. Ask them to come up with one word to describe how they feel. Ask them where in their body they physically feel pain:. Is it a lump in your throat or a burning sensation in your belly? Is it a clenched jaw or tears forming in your eyes? The best way to teach our kids this is to do it ourselves and model out loud how we feel. This practice helps each of us remember that feelings are temporary. Feelings and emotions are always moving through us. When my daughter was younger, rather than asking her:  “Are you anxious?” I would ask her: “Is anxiety visiting you?” This simple shift in language helped her remember that she is not anxious. She’s a normal kid feeling anxiety, and this feeling is temporary and will shift to a new feeling. Tension can lead to release, sadness can lead to joy, insecurity can lead to confidence. Everything is temporary and helping our kids at any age lean in and feel without judgment can build this inner knowing and resiliency.

Another way I have explained this over the years is to reframe uncomfortable feelings as a form of exercise to become stronger. We know this principle well in our bodies. When we lift weights at barre3, for example, we struggle, feel pain and we even take our muscles to the point of failure. We do this on purpose to build strength. Most kids understand this. At the very least, they know exercise is good for them. What if they thought about all their feelings-–even the hard ones—in this way as well? Most people don’t love the feeling of their thighs on fire during squats, but we have learned to appreciate and even look forward to the burn because we know it is temporary and  will lead to stronger legs. The more you do it, the more rewarding it becomes. 

This is how I’ve helped my children reframe stress, anger, disappointment, judgment and grief. All of these feelings are hard. But if you pick up these feelings like a heavy weight, really let yourself feel, there is a beautiful kind of strength on the other side. Feeling lonely, for example, can be an invitation to become more self compassionate and vulnerable. This can lead to attracting the kind of people who appreciate who you are on the inside. Feeling grief can lead to feeling deep gratitude.

Each and every time our children experience moving from struggle to strength they build self-efficacy, confidence, wisdom and resiliency. This kind of inner strength wouldn’t be possible if all moms had that magic wand we’ve all wished for to make the struggle go away.

This story is a part of The Motherly Collective contributor network where we showcase the stories, experiences and advice from brands, writers and experts who want to share their perspective with our community. We believe that there is no single story of motherhood, and that every mother’s journey is unique. By amplifying each mother’s experience and offering expert-driven content, we can support, inform and inspire each other on this incredible journey. If you’re interested in contributing to The Motherly Collective please click here.

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