Note: this post was shared with my daughter’s permission.
When children are little, talk of their future takes on a happy, shiny feeling. It’s easy to be optimistic about all the possibilities that await, and the world seems fit for these young souls to conquer.
But somewhere near or during the teenage years, talk of the future takes on a dark undertone. Suddenly we’re not hoping the world is ready for our child, we’re hoping our child is ready for it.
Sympathy becomes cynicism as adults are more likely to say “You think the homework is hard now? Wait for college!,” and “No boss is going to care if you had a bad night’s sleep.” It’s as if the landscape changes from the Yellow Brick Road to the Haunted Forest, and fear that the world is a gaping maw of struggle and strife sets in.
It’s with such fear that I sent my 18yo daughter to school yesterday, tears and all, as she was struggling with a bout of emotional turmoil. I was in the middle of trying to solve another escalated situation with my 7yo, so had time for little more than a short pep talk and a refusal to let her stay home from school. “You’re going to have to find a way to deal with it,” I told her, imagining future college professors and job supervisors nodding their heads in agreement.
So, off I went, off she went…and I spent the rest of the day sick to my stomach with worry. How was she doing now? Why wasn’t she answering my texts? Was she able to make it to class? How would she be when I finally had time to talk to her later?
After all, if we’re to believe the world is as unforgiving as we sometimes paint it, what do we do but worry when our broken children are trying to find their place in it?
I prayed, as I always do, and texted my husband and two other daughters, asking them to pray as well. I posted encouraging words and a funny video on her Facebook wall, hoping she would see them. I thought of quotes and books that have helped me through tough emotional times, ready to recommend them.
When my daughter came home, she was cheerful and seemed relieved of her earlier burdens. She explained that the strangest thing had happened during school. A good friend had invited her to a counseling group of sorts – one neither my daughter nor I knew existed at the school. It took place during my daughter’s free period, so she was able to attend.
She and a few other students met with a counselor to talk about tackling unrealistic expectations and perfectionism. My daughter came home with a few handouts and eagerly said to me, “We talked about three ‘c’s – courage, compassion, and connection.”
“Brené Brown!” I shouted. “She was talking about Brené Brown!”
My daughter looked at me, confused. I explained, “She was who I was quoting in my texts to you this morning! Yes! Courage, compassion, and connection!”
“The counselor said it was from a book. Something about ‘imperfection,” my daughter continued.
“The Gifts of Imperfection!”* I said. “I have that book!”
I ran to the bookshelf and got it for her. We laughed together at the coincidence, and my daughter said again how “weird” it was that on that day of all days, she would get the help she needed. And that she would be introduced to a book I was familiar with and loved, had wanted to recommended to her, and that was right on the shelf in our own home.
She took the book and headed upstairs, and I whispered words of gratitude to God.
It’s true that the world can be a harsh place. It’s wise that we should prepare our children for it. But sometimes the world is kind, too. Sometimes our broken children will have a friend who notices their struggle, sometimes the right person with the right words will come along. Sometimes there will be sympathy and support when it’s needed.
There is enough in the world to be hopeful about, and if we all just keep plugging our share of kindness into it, I believe there will be enough to go around.
*I sincerely feel my life changed when I discovered Brené Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection. I wrote a post soon after reading it called No More Room for Shame that explains the impact it had on me.