I’m cooking dinner/washing clothes/playing on my phone/staring out the window (any number of normal every day life things) and Tabby starts crying. Tears that communicate pain, not frustration or anger or annoyance. As her mom, I know the difference.
My first thought, and the first words out of my mouth instinctually are “what happened?” It’s done very empathetically (most of the time), there’s a hug involved, a brushing tears off her face, a sadness in my own heart as I watch my child suffer.
And yet verbally, when I am asking her (sometimes over and over) “what happened?” I am requiring something from her in that moment. I’m requiring her to explain to me what happened, explain to me why she’s hurting.
When she’s crying, I am uncomfortable, I hurt, there’s an ache in my own heart. And I’ve been trained (by God who designed me this way, by myself, by my caregivers, by the world) to run away from pain and discomfort. One method of running from it, in an effort to get away from it, to stop hurting, to make the pain go away for both of us — is to fix it.
And I can’t fix it if I don’t know what happened.
So, logically, my first question is — “what happened?”
In that moment I’m communicating something with the purest intention — mommy is trying to understand so mommy can fix it.
With the tears flowing, when she can’t catch her breath, when her heart is heavy with pain, I am asking her to articulate what has happened to her and I recognize, that’s a really big ask.
So…I started experimenting.
I practiced focusing on her pain, first, and THEN tried to figure out what happened, second.
Insert same scenarios, sometimes multiple times a day…I’m cooking dinner/washing clothes/playing on my phone/staring out the window (any number of normal every day life things) and Tabby starts crying. Tears that communicate pain, not frustration or anger or annoyance. As her mom, I know the difference.
“Oh my goodness, I’m so sorry, Tabby! Come here!” I get on her level, I hug, I wipe the tears away, I feel the sadness in my own heart as she feels the pain in hers.
At first, it was so hard. Everything in me is screaming — FIX IT FIX IT FIX IT!!! WHAT HAPPENED??!! FIGURE OUT WHAT HAPPENED SO YOU CAN FIX IT.
And I even snuck in some “what happened?” questions to start.
But then, over time, I got better at it.
I’d be cooking dinner/washing clothes/playing on my phone/staring out the window (any number of normal every day life things) and Tabby starts crying. Tears that communicate pain, not frustration…you get the picture.
And I’ve learned some stuff.
1. When I wasn’t using emotional energy trying to understand what happened, trying to fix, getting frustrated I couldn’t fix, I was able to fully show up for her in her pain while causing my own self minimal pain in the process.
2. In turn, she wasn’t using emotional energy trying to communicate the situation. She focused her emotional energy on healing instead of explaining to me what happened.
3. With less emotional energy spent from either of us, the moments passed quickly, sometimes almost instantaneously, with minimal interruption to the flow of the day.
4. When I stopped focusing on fixing it and instead focused on showing up for her in her pain, I realized, 9 times out of 10 there was NOTHING for me to even fix. The getting on her level, the hug, the wiping the tears, that was often all she needed.
I have so much I want to say. So much about lamentation and compassion. So much God is teaching me about both. He’s connecting dots, He’s revealing stuff about who He is, letting me learn things, showing me better ways of doing things. I’ll get more clarity on that one day and I’ll share, because as a writer, I can’t, not.
In motherhood, I get the opportunity to “fix” stuff in their lives, with band aids and snacks and iPad and skin-to-skin and kisses. And it feels REALLY good to fix stuff. But with every day that passes. I recognize there are and will continue to be, more and more things that I can’t. More stuff in their lives I can’t fix. I can only cry when they cry. Hurt when they hurt. And just sit in all of it with them.
I want to be a more compassionate human — for the world, outside my home, for people standing on the streets and the ones who live next door. People are feeling SO MUCH PAIN right now and I want to engage with it, well. In a way that’s healthy for me and healthy for those I want to lament with.
I tell my self all the time I will never be able to do “it” (whatever it is) out there, if I don’t first do it in here (with my own “four people”).
God has gifted me a safe place to practice lamenting in the four walls of my home. When I’m tired and grouchy and fussy and my oldest bursts into tears, I still grab for the comfortable “what happened?” but I’m learning to not use it as often. I’m learning to let her cry, hold her tight, and tell her she’s okay. Sometimes we get to a point where the question “what happened?” makes sense, and other times she just runs back to her toys and I go back to stirring the soup on the stove.