One of the hardest aspects of parenting is watching your kids suffer. Some have had to bear watching their kids physically suffer, while others have to watch their kids emotionally suffer.
I have had four healthy kids who, other than the occasional broken bones and/or stitches, have stayed clear of hospitals. I am so thankful for that.
But I have walked with one of my children who felt like an outsider, who didn’t really connect with other kids, and who didn’t understand why life felt so harsh to him. He tried really hard, felt very deeply, and suffered immensely when all of his best attempts at connecting failed.
I prayed and prayed for that little guy. One time in prayer, God gave me the phrase “circle of 3”, which represented what he was feeling with his siblings. With the exception of him, his siblings had a tight circle of friendship. They got along well and played creatively and spontaneously. Their relationship seemed so close and so effortless. But to this son, it felt like their circle excluded him.
It wasn’t that they were intentionally sidelining him. In fact, they tried endlessly to include him; but his behavior while playing – taking over, changing the rules, intensely competing – had them walking away frustrated every time.
My response was to train. It was to show him the socially acceptable responses to interaction. It was to give him tools with which to cope. It was to have endless conversations about whether or not he wanted to compete and win, or simply play to have fun and have buddies. I had him analyzing his goals with people. I had him realizing how his actions made people respond.
My goal was to steer. I kind of visualized my role as if I was his tour guide and I was steering him away from all of the potholes in his path. I felt like it was my job to make his way easier, often times anticipating what his natural response would be and then redirecting him to act otherwise. After all, I had been there. I knew what would be received and what would be shunned. I felt that I could help him by steering him to change his motivations and actions.
Until. I had a conversation with an older woman about my son. Her wise wisdom stopped me in my tracks and brought me to tears. She said that his story was his unique story, and my job wasn’t to stand in front of him and tell him where to go. She said that his story might include suffering, and that I wasn’t to step in to change that or him. She counseled that if I took that posture, I would communicate to him that he wasn’t good enough as he was, and he would never learn to navigate life himself. However, if I stood beside him, even through the hurt and pain and simply loved him with compassion and companionship, he would learn to conquer his issues himself, and he would learn to lean heavily on his God.
I had been shouldering the future of my son on myself alone. Whether he succeeded or failed had been on me. With this new piece of advice, I realized that the future of my son was between my son and God. There was no child that I could force to be his friend. There was no circumstance that I could arrange that would keep him from hurting. There was nothing I could do to alleviate his loneliness. EXCEPT to be there with him.
I committed to quit trying to change him. I still shared with him tools that I thought would help, and I still shared with him answers to his questions when he asked. But more often than not, I simply stood beside him as he worked through the pain and frustration, encouraging him, praying with him, hugging him and cheering him on. It was the hardest thing to see him fail and fall down, to see him be rejected and misunderstood – but it was his story, and I wanted my role in his story to be that of unconditional support.
I can tell you that, through his journey, he has discovered so many keys to relying on God and to connecting with others. If you know my kids, or met them in the future, you would never guess which one this story was about. The transformation is entire and complete, with him being a magnet to young kids that look up to him, and him having a vital role in inner-city outreach. There is no longer a “circle of 3”.
In no way am I taking credit for that. The reason that I end with that note is to give peace to those struggling with these issues as well, and to testify that sometimes the best solution is training and steering, but sometimes, the best solution is walking alongside in quiet, unconditional support.