Comforting your child is something all parents worry about. Am I doing too much or too little? Unexpectedly, my empty-nester husband and I have been reacquainted with this worry. I would have thought our experience and age would make parenting and comforting a child easier, but the circumstances are unfamiliar.
In February, we made the difficult decision of asking for legal custody of our young granddaughter. Let’s just say that the stories about her parents, one of whom is my own child, would make your hair curl.
In spite of all the upheaval our granddaughter arrived with all her clothes and toys, including two bags of stuffed animals.
Grief and Loss is Unavoidable
It has been impossible to explain to her why she cannot live with her parents. Instead we try age appropriate reasons why Mommy and Daddy can’t parent her. Every day she understands a little more.
In the beginning we downplayed subjects like addiction, but she is too smart for that. Consequently, we try for honesty and age appropriateness. Most importantly, we prepare ourselves daily for the fall-out of anger, sadness and depression.
Grief and loss is something we all participate in as humans. It is unavoidable. We cannot protect our children from it. It takes it’s own journey and in it’s own time. She is making room for it in her life, but many times I find myself alone folding small socks and weeping about all the loss.
Stuffed Animals as a Life Preserver
Normally we are not fans of stuff, but it was a deliberate decision to let her stuffies take over our home. They are her past. They are her life preserver. Since she arrived she’s been adding to the piles on a regular basis, saying you can never have too many.
These stuffies accompany her everywhere, beside her in the car, in her backpack and at the dinner table. She talks to them. She hold’s them up to my ear and asks me what they say.
There are tears when one is missing or rendered scruffy by our dog. Bandages are lovingly applied and special attention at bed time is demanded to heal from high drops or being lost and then found in the park.
In particular, one of the stuffies has been an incredible mirror of our granddaughter’s private thoughts. Like a fly on the wall, I listen to the discourse between her, as Mommy, and this pink battered owl, as her child. Many of the conversations have her owl child on a plane with the owl’s father. Then more conversations with me asking if her child should to be at home or in school, instead of constantly traveling.
She navigates me between the world of children and adults. I am both awed and terrified. Terrified that I will make a mistake and her therapeutic play will go underground.
Parenting a Fragile Child
Some of her stuffies were in my closet as a consequence to bad behaviour. I wondered, given her relationship to these plush creatures, whether taking even one was a good idea. I’m sure all parents feel such conflict. You cannot protect your children from everything. Consequences, particularly natural ones, are the one thing that cannot be competed with by parents or by educators. Even with a small child action and reaction is a personal experience and only slightly tempered by parental meddling.
Allowing children to feel disappointment or failure is very difficult for parents and educators. Our children do need comfort, but perhaps we need to be still. To pause just long enough for the quiet voices to reach up to inform us. We can trust and let our children direct us clumsy parents, and grandparents, to what they really need.
How do parents know how much failure is just the right amount? We don’t. We probe and practice and listen and hope. Did I get it right or did something miraculous just happen?
Miracles Do Happen
One quiet morning, as my granddaughter and I worked together cleaning her room, she said she was ready to donate most of her stuffies. Some other little girl or boy might need them she said.
I held my breath as the carefully chosen 15 made it to an honoured place on her bedside table. Then, with a bon voyage and a hug, the remainder of teddy bears, kittens, foxes and soft dolls went into two clear blue recycling bags. I left them by our door for two days, but I was the only with trepidation. My heart beating in my throat as I left them at the thrift store.
It’s been almost 30 years since I became a parent, but with her I still feel like beginner. What I found incredibly helpful about my parenting choices is this article about children and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. This might help you comforting your child, when they can’t tell you where it hurts.