If you ask any parent, they’ll probably tell you it’s hard to see their kids get physically hurt. Nursing a bike-riding injury or a bump on the head post-wrestling match, when combined with tears, is rough on a mom or dad’s heart. You do everything you can to calm them down and let them know the pain is temporary, because you know it is.
So yeah, it sucks to see our kids get hurt—any parent will attest to that. But, for every bump or bruise or even broke bone we have to nurse, it’s 100 times harder when we see our kids battling a broken heart. This one cuts us to our core and is hands-down one of the hardest parts of parenthood. (Like harder than potty-training hard.)
That’s certainly my truth anyway. For example, my child ran head-first into a mirror a few weeks ago and shattered it with his skull (he’s fine, btw), and I barely batted an eye.
But when I find out someone has been mean to my kids? And made them question their own self-worth? That lights a fire inside this mommy like nothing else. It’s like a sleeping dragon just woke up and drank a Redbull, and it takes every bit of my strength to keep from annihilating that kid who hurt mine.
That’s the thing though—as much am I ready to go straight up Daenerys Targaryen and breathe fire upon their world, I can’t. Because as their parent, that’s not my job.
Heartbreaks (although on the smaller side) have already happened to my kids, so I’ve just begun my initiation into this club of parents whose kids have been bullied or treated unkindly. And yeah, when your child comes running off the bus in tears because another girl yelled at her and said they aren’t friends anymore, it does kind feel like you’re being hazed.
Because even though fire is about to come out of your eyeballs as you hold your distraught child, you have to sit on your hands and purse your lips and not actually beat down that girl’s door and demand an explanation for why she made your kid cry.
That’s not how it works.
Instead, you have to quiet the dragon (and the dragon queen) and help your child cope with the heartbreak on their own. Because the harsh reality is that this isn’t the last one they’re going to face. And as much as you long for a protective bubble that can shield them from all the insults and all the “I don’t like you anymore” statements and all the social media teasing and all the teenage dating broken hearts, and all the times they don’t make the team or get a part in the play, you know the truth. No such bubble exists. And if it did, you wouldn’t wrap it around your child anyway because you want them to live a full life.
And a full life means love. And loss. It means joy. And pain. It means success and failure. And it means true, loyal friendships and bratty little Emilys and their “We’re not friends anymore!” attitudes that make your own daughter run in the house sobbing.
Here’s the thing that we don’t want to tell our kids, but we have to: there will always be struggles. And rather than pave a clear path for our kids, it’s our job to instead empower them to face heartache. To make our own kids into dragons who can handle shit, and breathe their own fire. (Or, least build up a tough dragon-scaled skin and a feeling of self-worth that no one can destroy.)
So yes, I will admit that I had to try reeeeeeally hard to not say, “What’s Emily’s last name? Where does she live?” when my sweet little girl came running in the house recently, sobbing. But I didn’t.
I let her cry it out a while and just held her. Once she was calm enough to talk it through, I got the full story, and then did what a real mother of dragons should do. I asked my daughter how she viewed herself. Was she a good, kind friend? She said yes.
And nothing and no one can take that from her.
No one is allowed to make my little girl feel lesser than.
We talked about the person my daughter is. How everyone is always commenting on her kindness. Her generosity. Her fairness. How helpful she is to others. And how she makes the world better by being all of those things.
But I also told her the hard truth. As much as she brings beauty and goodness into the world, there will always be ugly parts. There will also be people who will hurt them, either intentionally or unintentionally. And oftentimes, that hurt is the result of their own hurt and pain.
And we talked about how we respond when people are unkind to us. First of all, if we are the ones who did something wrong, we should apologize. But in a case like this (when one 8-year-old is mad because another 8-year-old sat with different friends on the bus that day), what do we do or say in return?
I teach my kids to stand up for themselves, but to also try to be kind as much as they can. I believe that this little girl was feeling hurt when my child sat with a different friend that day and acted on that hurt. And while my kids don’t deserve to have their peers yell in their faces, they can take some time to reflect on the situation before choosing their response.
In the end, I told my daughter that it was her choice whether to sit with this child again, befriend her again, or tell her she needed some space. Just like I can’t breathe fire when someone hurts my kid, I also can’t make decisions for my children and control their behavior when they aren’t with me. I have to trust them to make those choices on their own.
I knew that the next morning, these two girls would board the bus and neither of their parents were going to be there to mediate.
Well, in typical 8-year-old fashion, they are friends again (which was expected). But I do think my daughter learned from this. I think she’s a little bit tougher and a little bit more prepared for the next heartache. And all I can do is be there to hold her, talk her through it, and remind her of her own self-worth.
I hate to think about it, but someday she’ll likely face true, long-term heartbreak as a teen or as an adult. (Or both.) And I’ll admit that I still dream of that imaginary bubble that could shield her. But the reality is that all these smaller transgressions — 8-year-old bus incidents, being left off birthday party invite lists, hearing someone tease you about your shoes — these add up. And it’s our job as parents to help them add up the right way. Rather than spewing negativity within our kids and hate for the world, we have to change the narrative. We have to talk about why some kids are unkind. Why we sometimes get our hearts broken. Why we sometimes don’t make the team. And how we are strong enough to heal from it and move forward, stronger than ever.
It’s one of the hardest parts of parenting–seeing our children in pain. It’s natural for us to want to take that pain away. And sometimes we can. We can put Neosporin and a bandaid on a cut. We can put ice pack on a sprained ankle.
Nursing a broken heart, unfortunately, is not that easy. And, honestly, it’s sort of an essential part of growing up. Because although it kills us to see our kids hurt and feel that pain of rejection—of a lost friendship or breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend, or not making the team—we also get to see them heal from it and come out on the other side stronger than ever, knowing they are going to be okay.
And then we know we’ve done our job.