February 28, 2020

When "It's Going To Be Okay" Just Isn't Cutting It

"It's going to be okay."

We tell our kids this because we want to comfort them, want to reassure them, want to lift some of their load off of them.

And a lot of the time, thank goodness, it's true: it IS going to be okay. A lot of the time, it's really already okay, and our kids mainly need us to reset them and reassure them of that.

"It's going to be okay."

Except sometimes, it's not...or at least, "okay" isn't showing up ANYTIME SOON.

This is the land of mom limbo, and personally, I'd rather not go there ever again. But it's a place we have to go sometimes with our kids for the love of our kids. And when we're there with them, they need us to do a few things while we're not saying, "It will be okay."

Let them feel what they feel.

Our modern society favors a short list of emotions: happy, cheerful, optimistic, and fine. People who are sad or discouraged or upset are encouraged to get over it...now. On top of this, as moms, we yearn to heal what is sick, mend what is broken, and right what is wrong.

But there are times we have to let our children walk through, not around, what Ecclesiastes 3:4 calls "a time to weep and a time to laugh."

We have to be patient while they process new realities and grieve unmet expectations and mourn dreams that don't come true. We have to learn to strike "everything will be okay" from our stock-phrase vocabulary, along with "cheer up!" or "what's wrong?" When in doubt, we fall back on some standbys that are classics for a reason: a hug (if they want one or will let us give them one), a genuine "I'm sorry," and the simply profound, "I love you."

At the right time, direct their minds away from The Thing toward Something Else.

This isn't about rushing our kids past their realities or dishonoring their feelings. Mental processing has to happen. But there comes a point when continually stirring The Thing That's Bothering You around and around in your head serves no purpose and accomplishes no good. This is when our kids need us to help them come up with Something Else to direct their minds (and hearts) toward. Something else could be a Bible verse, a prayer, a list of what they're looking forward to, lyrics to an uplifting song, or a review of the available flavors at a favorite ice cream shop. The point is to give their minds somewhere safe and comforting to land.

Check in...but give some space.

When our kids are in Unokay Land, we can't spend the duration constantly asking, "Are you okay? What's the matter?" We know they're not okay, and we usually know what's the matter. But neither do we want to ignore them if they need to talk again or if something else has come up.

Here, it can be helpful to settle on a couple guideposts: 1)if something else is wrong or they want to talk further about The Thing we already know is wrong, they need to tell us so we don't have to guess (maybe inaccurately) what the look their face means; and 2)if we want to confirm the look we're seeing is because of what we already know is wrong, it can be helpful to have some sort of code phrase or code "sign language" just to confirm and acknowledge.

Give good medicine.

When my younger daughter was a tween, she had a day when she was in the very beginning stages of heavy grief over the loss from regular life of two friends due to situational changes. That day, she was scheduled to help out at a class function, and I took her to it, hoping the activity would distract her from thinking. But she was bored and had plenty of time to think. On the way home, her face was heavy with sorrow, and I was scrambling through all my mom tricks to figure out what I could do to help her.

A few minutes after we walked in the door, my older daughter called to her from our family room. "Come out here! I have to show you something!" My heavy-hearted girl went to her sister (grudgingly), and within a couple minutes, I heard both of them howling with laughter. My firstborn had dug up an old camera she hadn't used since her pre-iPod days and hooked it up to her laptop to play a slide show. While the girls watched old "modeling" videos they'd made and clicked through pictures of their elementary-aged selves, they laughed...and laughed...and laughed. From the other room, I could hardly reconcile the sound I was hearing from my tween with the despairing look I'd seen on her face minutes before.

At the computer, listening, I typed a Facebook post thanking my older daughter for her big-sister gift. She said to me later, "Did you hear how I had her laughing? I knew those pictures would do it." I told her, "I just posted about it." I loved how her idea beautifully proved the wisdom of Proverbs 17:22: "A cheerful heart is good medicine." 

There is a time to weep, and we have to let our kids have it. But there are times to laugh, too, and—here's the crux of it—usually these "times" are not compartmentalized but rather woven together in the messy mix of life.

Milk the power of looking forward.

None of us, including our kids, can live in the future. Today is the day we've been given, and it must be lived as well as possible. But giving our unokay kids something tangible to look forward to and plan and be excited about in the future can go a long ways toward reenergizing them for what they're dealing with in the present.

Go the distance.

When our kids are hurting, the crisis often passes quickly. (Thank God.) More times than I can count, my girls have come home distraught over some issue with school or a friend, yet a few texts, a few snacks, and a few hours later, they're over it. But the time you're in with your kids right now might not be that time. This time might be a marathon, not a sprint. As moms, we have to remind ourselves that while we might be getting used to the idea of whatever's going on with our kids, they still might not be used to the reality of it. There might not be any quick fix. There might only be patience and grace and time and a commitment to the long haul.

There are seasons in mom life when we just have to learn to clamp our mouths shut on "everything will be okay" and tell our best beloveds a few things that are probably more true:

I know life isn't all that great right now. But it can still be good. 

This is not your whole story. It's a page or even a chapter in it, but it's not the whole tale. 

Life will get better. But you might not realize it's better until a little ways down the road. While you're on the way to better, I'm here with you and for you. 

And also? I love you like crazy.